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Full text of "Tales of a shirtmaker : a Jewish upbringing in North Carolina"

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THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




THE COLLECTION OF 
NORTH CAROLINIANA 

PRESENTED BY 

Frederick L. Block & 
Susan Taylor Block 



CB 
B651b 



FOR USE ONLY IN 
THE NORTH CAROLINA COLLECTION 



Form No. A-368, Rev. 8/95 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



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A Jewish Upbringing 
in North Carolina 




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Also by Susan Taylor Block 

The Wrights ofWilmington 

Wilmington's Confederate General: William MacRae 

Dressed in Sunlight: Eleanor Wright Beane (with Eleanor Wright Beane) 

Published by the Boys and Girls Brigade, Inc. 

The Character Factory: A History of the Boys' Brigade 

Published by the Cape Fear Museum 

Along the Cape Fear 

Cape Fear Lost 

Cape Fear Beaches 

Published by the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society 
and the New Hanover County Public Library 

Wilmington Through the Lens of Louis T Moore 
Van Eeden 

Published by Airlie Foundation, Inc. 

Airlie: The Garden ofWilmington 

Published by Cape Fear Garden Club 

Belles and Blooms: Cape Fear Garden Club and the N. C Azalea Festival 

Published by St. James Church 

Temple of Our Fathers: St. James Church (1729—2004) 



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f^?/ TALES 

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A Jewish Upbringing 



in North Carolina 






Frederick L. Block 

as told to 
Susan Taylor Block 



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Wilmington, North Carolina 






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Tales of a Shirtmaker: A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 
© Copyright 2005 by Susan Taylor Block 
All rights reserved 

Published by Winoca Press 

106 North 16th Street, Wilmington, NC 28401-3819 USA 

www.winocapress.com 

Available from the publisher or from the authors: 

P.O. Box 3691, Wilmington, NC 28406 USA / bookmart@ec.rr.com 

Printed in the United States of America 
07 06 05 5 4 3 2 1 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Block, Frederick L., 1927— 

Tales of a shirtmaker: a Jewish upbringing in North Carolina / Frederick L. Block 

as told to Susan Taylor Block. 

p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references. 

ISBN 0-9755910-1-0 

Block, Frederick L., 1927 — 2. Block Shirts (Firm) 3. Jews — North Carolina — 

Wilmington — Biography. 4. Wilmington (N.C.) — Biography. I. Block, Susan 

Taylor, 1951— II. Title. 

F265J5B55 2005 

975.6'27004924'092— dc22 2004031065 



The author is grateful to Beverly Tetterton at the New Hanover County Public Library, 
Eli Naeher at the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, and Tim Bottoms at the Cape Fear 
Museum for special care in providing some of the photos. Barbara Brannon has done 
exceptional work as advisor, editor, and book designer. Betty H. and Joseph W. Taylor, Jr., 
along with John Burney, Jr., David Block, Nathan Schwartz, Joe Sheppard, Sandra 
Stadiem and Sonny Simpson, and Michael Whaley, provided additional information. 

On the cover: A young Fred Block and men of the Block family at the Scotts Hill farm, 
about 1939; model window display for Blocks Cantfade Shirts line; Sadie Stadiem Block 
and sons Fred (left) and David, 1936. The striped oxford cloth pattern in the background 
is taken from a Block's fabric sample book, circa 1965. These and other photographs are 
from the collection of the author, except where noted. 



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This book is dedicated to the memory of William Block (1877-1954), 
quietly devout and perennially kind 



Contents 

List of Illustrations ix 

Genealogy: The Block Family of Wilmington xii 

Introduction: A Little Background Susan Taylor Block xv 

Nathan Block and the Block Shirt Factory of Wilmington 1 

Little Boy Block 4 

School Days 7 

Union Station to Grand Central 15 

Kinston and the Stadiems 17 

Flown from the Coop 25 

Traffic Boy Block 28 

Life in a Streetcar City 30 

Set Apart 35 

Ma Sadie and Freddie Boy 43 

Sports in the 1930s 46 

Food Customs in the Block Household 50 

Summers at Carolina Beach 55 

Moving 65 

Shirt Tales 71 

Dark Clouds 79 

Tales Told out of School 82 

Different Days 87 

Duty! 91 

A Block in Blue Heaven 95 

Georgia Frolic 99 

Four-Wheel School 104 

More Duty 111 

Back to Work 117 

Southland 124 

Watching the Pennies 132 

Spreading Out 135 

New Yawk 147 

Today 150 
Notes 155 



£ vii£ 



Illustrations 



Nathan Block, about 1905 xvii 

Fannie Block with sons Charles and Nathan, about 1 904 xviii 

Charles and Nathan Block in Baltimore, about 1913 xix 

Fannie Herman Block, seller of real estate options, about 1 922 xx 

Block Shirts and Nehi drinks at 702 North Front Street in 

mid- 1 920s xxi 
Hyman and Yetta Shapiro Stadiem, with children, about 1912 xxii 
Sadie Stadiem as Little Red Riding Hood for a community play xxii 
Betty Serrins Stadiem of Greensboro, about 1895 xxii 
H. Stadiem logo xxiii 
Block's Cantfade Shirts logo xxiv 
Greenfield Street wing of Block Shirts, the firm's cutting 

department xxiv 
Interior of Southland's Hanover Street factory, about 1 926 xxv 
William Block, about 1945 xxvi 
Nathan Block, about 1949 xxvi 
Fred Block, about 1984 xxvii 
Siblings Barbara Block Austin, Lynda Block Bohbot, Alison Block Getz, 

and Billy Block, 2004 xxviii 
Susan and Fred Block, at home, 1995 xxix 
Southland Manufacturing order form xxx 
Greenfield Street factory, 1937 3 
A young Fred Block on family vacation in Florida 5 
Fred Block and grandfather William Block, about 1928 6 
Fred Block atop one of Jack Farrar's horses, about 1937 6 
Howard-Graham Kindergarten certificate 7 
Fred Block, age fifteen months, in front of the Nathan Shane house, 

Chestnut Street 8 
1 932 production by St. James Church Kindergarten 9 
L. W Fonvielle and Fred Block, about 1936 11 
Isaac Bear School, about 1933 13 
Longley lawn at 1 1 1 North 15th Street 14 
H. E. Longley and son Henry, about 1938 14 
Siblings Moses and Sadie Stadiem, about 1908 17 
Isaac Stadiem 19 

•8. i*& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

Siblings David Stadiem and Sadie Stadiem Block, 1998 21 
Fred and Nathan Block on the Stadiems' front porch, 

Kinston, 1942 22 
Fred, Sadie, and David Block on the side porch on Chestnut 

Street, 1936 24 
Temple of Israel, 1 South Front Street 36 
The old synagogue, 313 Walnut Street 37 
B'nai Israel synagogue today 42 
Sir William Shirts logo 44 

Aerial view of the Block Shirt factory, about 1938 45 
Advertisement for Block shirts 45 

Baseball board in front of the Murchison Building, 1930s 47 
Fred and David Block, about 1938 49 
Claude Howell depictions of Wilmington City Market 52 
Nathan and Sadie Block at the "Please Don't Rain House" on 

Carolina Beach, about 1 934 56 
Miriam Stadiem, about 1933 58 
Fred Block at Carolina Beach, about 1937 59 
The fishermen of Seabreeze 61 
Fred, Sadie, David, and Nathan Block at 71 1 Forest Hills Drive, 

about 1941 67 
Fred Block at 71 1 Forest Hills Drive, 1941 68 
Bill for construction on the Blocks' Forest Hills home, 1940 69 
Nathan E. Block in the South Third Street factory, about 1951 73 
Sadie Block and two servicemen, Forest Hills 74 
Ann Wolf and Fred Loeb, about 1941, as pictured in Van Eeden 75 
Fred and Ann Wolf Loeb of Silver Spring, Maryland, 1 990s 75 
David and Fred Block, photographed by holocaust escapee 

Fred Wolff in 1939 77 
Fred Block, Howard Guld, William Block, Nathan Block, and Joe Block, 

at Scotts Hill farm, about 1939 80 
New Hanover High School, Market Street 86 
Fred Block in his Citadel uniform 92 
Father and son, Nathan and Fred Block, before a college 

football game 96 
Fred Block's University of Georgia student ID photo and athletics 

ticket, 1946-47 100 
Nathan Block in his office at Southland, 1952 102 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

Window display featuring the Cantfade label 105 

Southland promotional card 106 

Fred Block, Betty Lou Morrow, Ann Everett, and John Burney, 

about 1945 108 
The Cantfade Christmas party, about 1948 109 
The Cantfade in the Inland Waterway, about 1949 110 
Sinking of the Maipu 1 12 
Certificate from the General Hersey 1 12 
Fred Block on leave, French Riviera, 1952 113 
Fred Block and two soldier friends, Forest Hills, 1951 114 
Fred's new office at the plant 1 19 

Joe Block and his date, Irene, New York City, 1954 122 
Southland factory workers line up for Fourth of July party, 1966 125 
Longtime presser Lucille Tyson and other Block workers, 1966 125 
Block cutter Henry Croom, 1 966 126 
Nathan and Fred Block, about 1977 128 
Modeling Block shirts: Carlisle Jenkins, Henry Nunalee, Kevin Dineen, 

and Billy Block 129 
Nathan and Fred Block at Wrighstville Beach Marina, about 1971 130 
Board members of the North Carolina National Bank 133 
Cutting tables at the Block factory 134 

Trailer used to transport goods between Wilmington and Benson 137 
Mildred Rackley, manager of the Benson plant, 1966 139 
Bob George, manager of the Newport factory, 1 966 139 
Sadie Block with son Fred, 1981 143 
Trade delegation departs for China, 1970s 144 
Fred Blocks return from an overseas business trip, 1979 144 
Trade mission attorney Martin Klingenberg and Fred Block at the 

Great Wall of China, 1 979 145 
Block business card, New York office 148 
Longtime Block employees Joe Maultsby and Alton Ketchum, with 

Nathan Block at the new factory, about 1981 149 
Greenfield Street wing of Block Shirts 152 
Block employees Magdalene Johnson, Doris Ashe, Holly Long, 

and Brad Murray, about 1984 153 
Fred Block at Figure Eight Island, about 1992 154 



£xiS: 



The Block Family 
of Wilmington 



William Block (1877-1954) m. Fannie Herman 



Charles (1902-1978) m. Hannah Solomon 



Franklin 



Mary 



Nathan (1903-1986) m. Sadie Stadiem 



Fred 



David 



Esther (1907-1992) m. Moses Guld 



Howard 



Felice Guld Parker 



Joe (1908-1992) 



£xii£ 




TALES ©F A 

Irtmcther 

A Jewish Upbringing 
in North Carolina 



A Little Background 

Susan Taylor Block 

T 

It is a myth, explains Theodore Rosengarten in his introduction to A 
Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life, that 
there were no Jews in the South. Rather, writes Eli N. Evans in the pref- 
ace to the volume, the American South had welcomed Jews as far back 
as the seventeenth century, and the Carolinas in particular had been 

a fantasy come true ... a place of dreams where Jews could 
live free in a kind of promised land, free to worship as they 
saw fit, free to practice any profession, free to trade and to 
make partnerships with gentiles, free to vote, free to own 
property and will it to their heirs, (xv) 

Whether William Block, grandfather of Frederick Lee Block, con- 
sciously held such a view is not known. But the son of Eastern European 
immigrants must have seen opportunity and advantage in North Caroli- 
na in the early years of the twentieth century, when he moved to Wilm- 
ington from Baltimore and founded an apparel business that would 
sustain his family for years to come. 

Fred Block has held a place of transition in this family and its enter- 
prises. As a child in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, he 
enjoyed the comforts of a supporting, peaceful community, a loving 
extended family, and middle-class privilege. As a young man he served in 

£ xv & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

the military, experienced university life, and learned his father's business 
from the ground up. He also learned about difference, taking note of the 
way the world was changing after World War II. He went on to lead the 
Block firm through shirts in management philosophy during a time 
when apparel manufacturing was just beginning to move to overseas pro- 
duction. 

It is Fred Block's stories that I relate here, only minimally edited 
from the way he first told them to me. Taken together they form a pic- 
ture of Wilmington from just after World War I, through the tumult of 
the second World War, and on into the era of civil rights and integration. 
They are episodes rather than a chronicle; there is no attempt to be com- 
prehensive, or to show life from any other perspective. But they preserve 
a glimpse of a particular time and place that even now is gone — and for 
that I am glad to play a part in recording them. 



William Block, Fred Block's grandfather, was the son of Moses and 
Rachel (Rebecca) 1 Fain Block, who lived in that area of Europe between 
the Baltic and Black Seas known in the 1800s as the Pale of Settlement 
and now known as Latvia. William, one of eleven children, was born in 
the city of Riga on December 22, 1 877. Moses Blocks family had orig- 
inally lived in Germany but moved to Latvia to escape persecution. 
Rachel's family operated a shipbuilding business in Riga, but her hus- 
band chose the path of many of his ancestors in Germany and became a 
rabbi and a professor of theology. The only physical description of Moses 
that has survived regards his exceptional height, a trait he shared with all 
his sons except William. He died when William was a child, leaving his 
large family so poor that some of them had to sleep on the floor. 

William's mother, Rebecca Block, was busy with a shirtmaking busi- 
ness that she ran successfully until her death at age 85. Perhaps this is 
why a New York newspaper once stated that William Block "might well 
be said to have been born in a shirt box." 2 In 1890, when William was 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



only thirteen, his mother sent him abroad to Baltimore, where he 
became a peddler to earn money for his sister's dowry or "dob." 

William Block was close to, and possibly distantly related to, a 
community of Jews from Riga who lived in and around Baltimore, 
Maryland, whose surnames included Herman, Millison, and Weiner. 
The Millison family name was originally Levine — but the first member 
to reach Baltimore bought a peddler business from a man named Milli- 
son. Wishing to save money, he forewent a new license and simply 
became "Mr. Millison." 

Most of the Herman family worked outside Baltimore in a cross- 
roads community called Hermanville, where they owned a store and ran 
the post office. "I remember visiting there," said Fred Millison, a descen- 
dant of the family, in 1992. "Business was slow at one time and they were 
advised to stock up on reading glasses so that their aging customers could 
read their Bibles. They bought them from a Mr. Epstein in Baltimore for 
fifty cents a pair and sold them for two dollars. Business picked up for a 
while." 

By 1900, William Block had 
married Fannie Leah Herman, the 
daughter of Charles and Sarah 
Herman. The newlyweds lived 
next door to the bride's brother and 
sister-in-law, Philip and Callie 
Herman. Philip was the postmaster 
for whom Hermanville was named 
in 1898. In addition to Fannies 
daughter, Yetta, from a previous 
marriage, Fannie Herman and 
William Block had four children: 
Charles Morris Block (b. 1902), 

Nathan Ellis Block (b. 1903), Nathan Block, about 1905 (photo by 

Esther Block (b. 1907), and Joseph the Kirkness Studio, Baltimore) 





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£ *vii gr 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Manfred Block (b. 1908). 

By 1918 William Block 
had become a partner in 
a factory making undergar- 
ments and had moved his 
family to Baltimore's fash- 
ionable Eutaw Place. Fan- 
nie, a businessperson in her 
own right, bought and sold 
real estate options. Yetta, 
the eldest child, died Feb- 
ruary 23, 1923, at the age 
of 27, leaving a seven-year- 
old daughter, Shirley. 
Because the child's father 
was not in a position to 
raise her, William and Fan- 
nie Block adopted her. 

In an effort to expand 
the company, William Block's son Nathan moved to Wilmington, North 
Carolina, in 1 923 to start a new factory. He had made his very first visit 
there the year before, after one of their Baltimore salesmen recommend- 
ed the city for its beauty and the presence of two cotton mills, Bellwill 
and Spofford. Nathan brought along twenty-five weathered sewing 
machines but was undaunted at the prospect of starting with so little. 
Nathan was able to do virtually every chore that was called for in a fac- 
tory, including machine repair. The local paper took note: "Machinery 
for the equipment of the Block Manufacturing Company, a Baltimore 
concern which is to set up an underwear plant at Front and Hanover 
streets, is expected to reach the city today. Nathan Block, of the firm, will 
arrive shortly in the capacity of local manager for the main home plant, 
which will continue to operate in Baltimore. "^ 




Fannie Block poses with sons Charles (left) and 
Nathan (center) in this studio photo, about 1904. 



~§L xviii & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

Very soon, William and the entire Block family moved south to 
Wilmington. Eventually, all three of William's sons — Charles, Nathan, 
and Joe — worked with him. William Block bought a house at 3 South 
Fourth Street, next to the Temple 
of Israel, and his three sons con- 
tinued to live with their father, as 
they had previously done in Bal- 
timore. 

The first small, temporary 
factory was located near Eighth 
and Castle Streets. But soon the 
Blocks leased a bigger space on 
Hanover Street from Solomon 
Bear, the building previously 
housing the E. L. Mathews 
Candy Company. The Hanover 
Street factory was heated by pot- 
bellied stoves. Underwear sewn 
by the Block factory, often made 
in suits of matching shirts and 
boxer shorts, was shipped from 
Wilmington to longstanding cus- 
tomers in Baltimore, New Mexi- 




Charles (left) and Nathan Block in 
Baltimore, about 1913 



co, Kansas, Boston, Philadelphia, and Savannah. Soon after switching 
from underwear to making dress shirts, the new firm, Southland Manu- 
facturing Company, was turning out 4,800 shirts a week.^ 

William Block's wife, Fannie Leah Herman Block, had already been 
in declining health for five years when the family moved to Wilmington. 
She was under the steady care of Dr. J. B. Cranmer, a neighbor who lived 
at 3 1 1 Market Street. Dr. Cranmer examined her for the last time on 
February 11, 1924; the following day, when only forty-five years old, she 
died at home of "bronchial and cardiac asthma." Fannie was buried in 



£*ix& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

Baltimore the following after- 
noon, in the Herring Run 
Hebrew Cemetery, next to her 
daughter, Yetta Lasky. Their 
graves are in the Beth Yehuda 
Anshe Kurland section, a part of 
the cemetery where many inter- 
related families from Riga are 
buried. Three of Fannies grand- 
children would be named for her, 
sharing her initials "F. L.": Fred- 
erick Lee Block, Franklin Lee 
Block, and Felice Leah Guld. 

Soon after the death of his 
wife, William Block sold the 
home he had purchased on 
Fourth Street to put more capital 
in the business. He then rented a 
house from his friend, Willie 
Rosenmann, at 14 South Fifth 
Street. There, the whole family 

became well acquainted with their neighbor Champ Davis, who would 
eventually become president of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. 

A fire in the fall of 1927 destroyed the factory, but soon sewing 
machines were humming again in the same rebuilt location. In 1930, 
Block or "Southland" purchased the Sol Bear Winery building in the 
1 100 block of South Front Street as a rental property and a backup space 
for the factory. It was leased for many years to Farrar Moving and Stor- 
age. In 1935, Southland began operating from a building on Greenfield 
Street that had formerly housed the Wilmington Printing Company. 
They later expanded the plant to include a wing on South Third Street. 
The Greenfield Street portion of the "new" factory then became the 
firm's cutting department. 




Fannie Herman Block, seller of real estate 

options, in Baltimore, about 1922 (photo 

by the Kirkness Studio, Baltimore) 



£xx£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

In 1926, Nathan Block married Sadie Stadiem of Kinston, North 
Carolina. Sadie's family originated in Prussia, where their surname had 
been both Staviscofsky and Scheindam before it was merged to Stadiem, 
perhaps by an immigration clerk. The rabbi who married Nathan and 
Sadie Block was concerned about the differences in Nathan's German 
Orthodox Jewish background and Sadie's Eastern European Jewish 
roots, and he advised the couple to work hard at staying close. It must 
have worked: their marriage would last until Nathan's death in 1986. 

Sadie's father, Hyman Stadiem (1882-1937), was revered in the 
farming community of Kinston, where he founded the H. Stadiem 
clothing store in 1903. Hyman had learned the retail business from his 
father, David, who had established a clothing store in Greensboro. 
David s son Abe remained in Greensboro to mind the family store while 
another son, Lewis, started a new one in Durham. Hyman chose Kin- 




Block Shirts and Nehi drinks, strange bedfellows, shared a building at 702 North 
Front Street in the mid- 1920s. The structure housed Sol Bear and Company 
Winery until Prohibition took effect. There was a fourth floor before the fire of 

October 1927. (Courtesy of Cape Fear Museum) 



£xxiS: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



. , ■ . ... . 



. 




Hyman and Yetta Shapiro Stadiem ofKinston, North Carolina, about 1912, with 
children (from left) Jacob, Moses, Isaac, Sadie, and Abraham. Sadie would marry 
Nathan Block of Wilmington in 1926. 




Sadie Stadiem (Block) was two years 
old in 1908, when she dressed as 
Little Red Riding Hood for a 
community play. 




Sadies grandmother, Betty Serrins 
Stadiem of Greensboro, North 
Carolina, about 1895 



2fi xxii & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

ston because "it was a good place." When Hyman Stadiem died sud- 
denly at the age of 55, the local paper ran an editorial that exclaimed: 

Thousands came to know him. None found fault with 
him. His was an honorable life, a religious life. They say 
his benevolences were numerous and unrevealed. 

His home life was as perfect as any. The family became 
1 0, and the affection that ruled in the household at Gor- 
don and Independence streets was the finest thing in the 
neighborhood. 

Death did Hyman Stadiem no harm. It gathered him 
to his fathers, and they dwell in happiness. 5 

The Kinston store celebrated a century of business in 2003 and con- 
tinues to operate. Hyman Stadiem, great-grandson of immigrant David 
Stadiem and grandson of the first Hyman, owns the store today. His 

father, David, age 87, still waits 
attentively on customers several days 
a week. 

Eventually William Block remar- 
ried, to Lena Wolk of Wilmington.^ 
The Block families occupied several 
addresses in the Carolina Heights and Winoca Terrace neighborhoods. 
Lena had built two homes in Carolina Heights: one at 1618 Princess 
Street, and a "twin" house, positioned sideways on its lot, that still stands 
at 204 North 15th Street. William and Lena Block lived at 1618 Princess 
Street from at least 1930 until 1935. When their marriage failed, 
William went to live for a year with his son Nathan at 1404 Chestnut 
Street. About 1935, William purchased 1618 Princess Street from his 
former wife, and returned there along with his extended family: his 
youngest son, Joe, his daughter, Esther Block Guld, her husband, Moe, 
and their two children, Howard and Felice. 

Block Shirts, or Southland Manufacturing Corporation, went on to 
be a major national manufacturing concern and grew to include multi- 




>2 xxiii $r 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



pie factories in the 
United States. Their 
products were sold 
under the labels Sir 
William, Freddie 
Boy, Southland, and 
Block. The factory also made shirts for Belk department stores, which 
sold under the name Andhurst, as well as shirts for many other retailers, 
including Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, Gimbel's, Broadway, and Hudson's. 






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The Greenfield Street wing of Block Shirts (once home to Wilmington Printing) 
became the factory's cutting department. 

In 1 937, Southland Manufacturing Company was the largest shirt 
company in the South. By 1937 Southland was making 24,000 shirts 
each week and employing 350 workers. The company's success fed other 
successes. Over half the cloth used at Southland was actually woven in 
the South. Cotton farmers and textile workers benefited: sixteen bales of 



-£ Xxiv _gr 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




The interior of Southlands Hanover Street factory, about 1926 

cotton translated into 33,000 yards of fabric that, in turn, became 1,175 
shirts. 

Southland employed fourteen traveling salesmen in 1937 and sold 
their shirts in 1,500 retail outlets in the United States, the West Indies, 
and Canada. "Ninety-eight per cent of the Block workers are Wilming- 
ton residents," reported the Wilmington Morning Star for February 14, 
1937, "and many have become highly skilled through their years of work 
with the concern, finding invaluable training and employment simulta- 
neously." 

William Block died of pneumonia on August 8, 1954, and was 
buried at B'Nai Israel Cemetery in Wilmington. After William Blocks 
death, sons Nathan, Charles, and Joe Block continued to work for the 
company. Fred's younger brother, David Block, Charles's son, Franklin 
Block, and Esther Guld's husband, Moe, and son Howard also joined the 



£xxv3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




William Block, about 1945 



family business. 

When Nathan Block retired in 
1969, Fred Block was named presi- 
dent of Block Shirts. In addition to 
leading the firm, Fred went on to 
serve as a founder of the Cape Fear 
Academy in Wilmington, a director 
of the Bank of North Carolina, and a 
president of the Figure Eight Island 
board of directors. 

By 1972 family tensions and 
changing conditions in the industry 
led to a merger of Block Industries, 
Inc., and National Service Industries, 
Inc. Fred arranged the sale and continued as president and CEO until 
1985. He oversaw the building of the shipping department on Burnett 
Boulevard in Wilmington as well as new shirt factories in the islands, in 
Arizona, and in Benson, Newport, and Rowland, North Carolina. He 
also built the College Road Block Industries building in Wilmington, in 
1980. He eventually made fifty trips to the Far East, making new 
arrangements for shirt manufacturing that would improve business, but 
that would also bring sadness when the 
Block sewing rooms became obsolete. 
Nonetheless the Block Shirt busi- 
ness continued to grow as long as 
Block family members were at the 
helm. In 1985, Fred Block resigned 
when he was accused of mismanage- 
ment, a charge from which he was 
exonerated in federal court. When 
Fred Block left the firm, the company 



Nathan Block, about 1949 




■yi xx vi 3c 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




was grossing $ 1 00 million a year, and Block shirts were carried in some 
10,000 retail outlets nationwide/ 

In 1992, National Service Industries sold Block Industries to a 
group of investors headed by former Bloomingdale s chairman Marvin 
Traub. Today an investor group led by Stewart Kim continues to run 
Block with offices in New York and Alabama. 

Nathan Block, who originally brought the Block shirtmaking enter- 
prise to Wilmington, died in 1986. Sadie Block died in 2000, at the age 
of ninety-four. 

Charles Block, eldest of William Blocks three sons, died in 1978. 
He is survived by his wife, Hannah, who became a Wilmington icon. In 
her nineties she is still a voice in Wilmington politics and many organi- 
zations. An honorary Green Beret, she is a former mayor pro tern, a for- 
mer city councilwoman, and a former beauty queen coach whose most 
famous trainee was Maria Fletcher, Miss America 1962. 

Charles and Hannahs son, Franklin Block, graduated from the 
Citadel in 1959 and Wake Forest Law School in 1976. He served as U.S. 
magistrate, built a successful private practice, and served in the North 



£ 



xxvn 



£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

Carolina Senate. Franklin and his wife, Wendy Barshay Block, are 
involved in many charities and cultural organizations in Wilmington. 

Esther and Moe Guld s son, Howard, resigned when Block was sold, 
in 1972. 

In 1954, Fred Block married Geraldine (Jeri) Susan Fox (1935- 
1987). They had four children: William Bentley Block (b. 1956; married 
to Audra Wetherill), Alison Henri Block (b. 1957; married to Donald 
Getz), Lynda Leigh Block (b. 1960; married to Meir Bohbot), and 
Barbara Ann Block (b. 1964; married to William Austin). 

In 1991 Fred Block married Elizabeth Susan Taylor — the compiler 
of this volume and others, with Fred's encouragement and help. Since 
1990, his family has grown to include two stepdaughters, Taylor Cro- 
martie and Catherine Gerdes, and four grandchildren, Nathan 
Oliver-Block, Elijah Austin, Jacob Austin, and Joshua Austin. 

Since his retirement, Fred Block has developed a decided aversion to 
dress shirts and ties. With his wife and stepdaughter Catherine, he lives 




Siblings Barbara Block Austin, Lynda Block Bohbot, Alison Block Getz, and 
Billy Block, in 2004 



£ 



XXVlll 



Sc 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



a quiet life in his home- 
town. Fred continues to 
amuse and charm those 
who love him. Speaking in 
the fast-disappearing old 
accent of coastal Carolina, 
he tells his stories whenever 
they are requested. Though 
sometimes they include 
more details than at others, 
his tales are always the same. 
And there are no exaggera- 
tions. No bragging. 

Former employees still 
speak to him in restaurants 
and stores and offices. "Hey, Mr. Freddie!" they call out. And he still, 
when confronted with a brand new shirt, will patiently study every fea- 
ture. In the collar, stitches, buttonholes, and seams, he sees a world 
known to but a dwindling few. 




Susan and Fred Block, at home, 1995 



■Q Xxix ^r 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



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yl xxx 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Nathan Block and 

the Block Shirt Factory 

of Wilmington 

By 1991, Fred Block was in his early 60s and, with encouragement, 
had grown fond of reminiscing. These are his stories. 



iVxy father, Nathan Block, moved from Baltimore to Wilmington in 
1923 to start a shirt factory. He brought twenty-five used sewing 
machines with him. In those times, as in the Far East today, the wages 
for factory labor were much lower in the South than in established 
industrial areas. In 1923, there was no minimum wage law in the Unit- 
ed States. They just had local wages. The old North sort of migrated 
south. Factories in Boston and other places closed up. 

Boston, they used to tell me, was like the Orient of the 1980s, when 
I first traveled there. Factory owners would give young girls from all the 
small towns room and board and let them stay there as long as they 
worked in the factory. The girls would go home every other weekend. 
They would have Sunday off and they would go home and visit their 
family. And that's exactly what they did in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and 
Korea in the 1980s. They would go to school there, eat there, sleep 
there — from the time they were fifteen years old. It was a sort of trade 
school apprenticeship situation. At Block, we kept to the rules, and our 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

workers were not that young. 

Wilmington was a small city, and my father liked it here and in 1 926 
he married my mother, who was from another small North Carolina 
town. I was born November 17, 1927. My parents stayed here and raised 
their sons and had a lot of good years in the shirt business. 

When my father arrived in Wilmington he came all by himself. He 
found the place on a prior trip, and when he got here with the machines, 
he started hiring people to make underwear. That's what they had made 
in Baltimore, at the Block-Lasky Factory. He ran the Wilmington plant 
for a while, trained operators, and saw that things were going well. That's 
when they decided to close the factory in Baltimore. 

Not long before my father came here, there had been great sadness 
in Baltimore when my father's half-sister, Yetta, died. My grandmother 
had been married before, and Yetta was her only child by that marriage. 
My grandfather treated her as his own child and so she was the oldest 
child in the household. Yetta married a man from Baltimore, and they 
had a daughter named Shirley. Shirley was just a little girl when her 
mother died. 

So then, my grandfather treated Shirley as if she were one of his own 
children. Her mother had been treated as the oldest, and Shirley was 
treated as the youngest even though neither was his child. So even 
though Shirley was my father's half-niece, she spoke of him as her broth- 
er. My grandmother did not live long after they moved to Wilmington. 
They said she died of a broken heart because of Yetta's death. 

Soon after moving here, Daddy made a new friend, a salesman 
named Willie Rosenmann. Later on, my parents would rent from him. 
Willie lived at 12 South Fifth Street in Wilmington. My parents (Nathan 
and Sadie), Charlie, Joe, Esther, Shirley, and William Block all lived at 
14 South Fifth Street in 1927. One day, Willie advised Pa to get out of 
underwear manufacturing and start making shirts. He told my father, 
"There's no money in underwear." 

So Pa started making shirts. The change meant more than just a big 

£2& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

jump in profit. It just seemed more respectable to make shirts. We could 
talk about shirts anywhere. But underwear? My father was smart. He 
could do anything in the factory, and he invented some new factory 
equipment. He knew finance and kept everything going right. He came 
up short on salesmanship, though. He was abrupt and very frank. 

One of the first girls my father ever hired, in 1923, was a candid, 
very down-to-earth woman named Lily Mason. She turned into one of 
the best sewing supervisors we ever had. Funny thing was, she wouldn't 
hire any blondes. Most of the women who applied got their color from 
a bottle, but that didn't matter to Lily Mason. Wouldn't have any 
blondes. She was still working there in the 1940s. 




Greenfield Street factory, 1937 



£3& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Little Boy Block 

V^ur little family left the house at 14 South Fifth Street about the 
time I was born. I think my mother got us out of there. She was in 
charge of things at our house, while my father was in charge of things 
at work. That was always the case. On Fifth Street, my mother had no 
control and they had no privacy. 

The first house I remember was the one at 1404 Chestnut Street, 
in a neighborhood known as Winoca Terrace. As far as any of us knew, 
the chestnut tree in our back yard was the only one on the street. The 
house was plain and two-story and had been used as a small private 
school by the former owner, Catherine Whitehead. 

The whole time I was growing up, I called my mother Mama and 
my father Daddy. I think that is what all my friends called their par- 
ents, too. Later I started calling my mother Ma Sadie. It fit. By the time 
she died, most people called her that. And Daddy turned into Pa. 

I guess my first childhood memory could be a trip to Florida I 
took with my mother and her parents and her sister, Miriam. I was 
three. We stopped by St. Augustine on the way down and spent the 
night. I was afraid to ride the elevator in the hotel, so my grandfather 
Stadiem held me in his arms as we rode it — even though I hit him on 
the head. After that, I loved the elevator and I rode it up and down 
with the elevator operator. 

Then we went to Miami and I don't remember much about that. 

£4& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

On the way back, we drove along 
the western coast and we bought 
some tomatoes near Tampa. We 
bought a bushel of green tomatoes. 
That was the only way they sold 
them. 

To our surprise, the next day, 
we saw one turning red. And as they 
turned red, we started eating 
them — just like you eat an apple. 
We would drive along munching on 
tomatoes. I know I get my love of 
tomatoes from my mother. She 
loved tomatoes, pickles, pickled 
herring — and almost anything else 
that was pickled. Acidic foods. 

My Stadiem grandparents, 
Hyman and Yetta, did not say 
much. My grandmother was a strong character. My mother told the 
story many times that the day I was born, she created a scene at Wilm- 
ington's James Walker Hospital. I was born at high noon. Ma Sadie 
said she heard the twelve o'clock whistle blow right as I was born. It 
was the middle of November, a time when tobacco selling cleared the 
streets of Kinston, North Carolina. The men in the family wouldn't 
have dreamed of leaving the store to go see a baby, so my grandmoth- 
er was stranded. She didn't let it get her down. She just went out on 
the highway and flagged down a vehicle to take her to Wilmington. It 
happened to be a Salvation Army truck on its way here. They dropped 
her off at the hospital. 

Yetta Stadiem went from room to room in the hospital looking for 
Ma Sadie. When she finally found the right room, a nurse came and 
stood in the doorway. "You can't come in here," she said to my four- 




A young Fred Block on family vacation 

in Florida 



£ 5£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




foot-nine grandmother. But 
Yetta just shoved that nurse 
right out of the doorway and 
pushed her way in to see her 
daughter and her first grand- 
child. 

Another very early memo- 
ry I have is of accidentally 
seeing a little girl in our 
neighborhood naked. It was 
the first time I had ever seen 
anything like that. I went 
straight home and told my 
mother that that little girl's 
mother was very mean. 

"Why do you say that, 
Freddie?" she asked me. 
"Because her mother cut off 
her wee-wee," I answered. 



Above: Fred Block's grandfather William doted 
on his first grandson, shown here about 1928. 




Left: Fred Block atop one of Jack 
Farrar s horses, about 1937. Farrar 
kept his horses on a farm located at 
the southwest corner of College 
Road and Oleander Drive in 
Wilmington, which is today occu- 
pied by Alltel and Toys 'R' Us. 
Farrar leased the old Bear Winery 
at 1121 South Front Street from 
the Blocks and used it as a storage 
facility business for many years. 



£6& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Schooldays 

W hen I was five, I went to kindergarten at St. James Church, the big 
Episcopal church on Market Street. That year they called it the 
Howard-Graham Kindergarten because the teachers were Louisa 
Howard and Mary Graham. My mother sent me there because it was 
considered the best kindergarten in town. I don't remember much 
about that, except my teacher. I couldn't say my g's then, so I called her 
Mrs. Dam. She was sweet to me, and I always had warm feelings for 
St. James Church because of her. 

Growing up in Wilmington was fun for me. There was always 
something to do or something to see. My parents would take me to 
Echo Farms, down on Carolina Beach Road, to milk the cows, or on a 
ride to Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach. Sometimes we would go 
to Swart's Dairy in 
Castle Hayne. We 
went to Monkey Junc- 
tion, where we would 
feed the monkeys. We 
would sometimes go 
to the little zoo 
at Greenfield Park, 
which was located on 
the west side of Third 



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£7£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Street and had a bear — a big black bear. 

Sometimes we would drive out to a speakeasy. Pa enjoyed a drink. 
I remember the ten-gallon keg he kept under a step in the Chestnut 
Street house during Prohibition. He bought whisky at a place out on 
Market Street across from the Blue Top Lodge. I remember riding 
downtown one Sunday. We were going down Water Street and when 
we got to the Custom House, there were black men out there with axes 
chopping up cases of whisky and then destroying the bottles. I remem- 
ber my father saying, "That's awful. 
How could anybody do something 
like that?" 

Pa also said, "I bet somebody's 
under the dock" — collecting the 
spillage! 

When I was about four, Ma Sadie 
and Pa painted their house white. I 
looked at the house and thought it 
would look prettier with a green stripe 
around it. Green was my favorite 
color, and the house already had green 
shutters. I went and got the green 
paint out of the garage and started 
painting a green stripe around the 
house. Eventually Ma Sadie saw what I 
was doing. She said, "Your father's 
going to beat you when he comes 
home." 

When Pa came home, he parked in the back yard, in the garage. 
When I saw him coming around the house, I started running up 
Chestnut Street. I got about halfway up the next block, towards down- 
town. He was faster than me, of course, and spanked me right there on 
the sidewalk. He spanked me good. Chestnut Street was a much-trav- 




Fred Block, age fifteen months, in 

front of the Nathan Shain house, 

1403 Chestnut Street 



£8& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




There were at least three "blackbirds baked in a pie" in this 1932 production by St. 
James Church kindergarten. Left to right (bottom row): Nell Trask, Fred Block, 
William Ross, Joe Morrison, and Laurence Sprunt; (top row) Fred Poisson, Francis 
Van Landingham, Blanche Bolles, Rockwell Poisson, and Shirley Finkelstein. (Courtesy 
Cape Fear Museum) 

eled street in those days because the streetcar tracks went up Princess, 
the next street over — and Ma Sadie said a lot of people must have seen 
me get a spanking. 

It had seemed like such a good design. 

My uncle Moses Stadiem gave me a pet goose when I was five years 
old. That goose followed me like a dog. It never pecked me or did any- 
thing to hurt me. He wasn't a white goose, he was multi-colored. I 
remember I would catch him, which was easy to do. And I would turn 
him over on this back and pet him on his stomach — and he would let 
me, even though geese usually hate that. 

The goose would follow me all over the yard at Chestnut Street. 
He had a little cage he stayed in when I wasn't there. When I was 
home, he was right behind me. When we moved to the beach that 
summer, we had a pen for him there. I'd let him out and most of the 
time he'd stay right around the house. 



£93: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

If I went to the ocean the goose would follow me out there. And 
he never would go out in the water. If I went in, he'd stand there and 
wait for me. But he followed me everywhere I went. That was the 
amazing thing. And if I came out the front door and he was under the 
house, he would come running and flying, half running and half fly- 
ing, to where I was. Honk, honk. He would come up and nuzzle me a 
little bit with his bill. 

Then one night my mother cooked him for dinner. The way I 
remember it, when I sat down at the table she told me it was my goose. 
I started crying. My father just said, "Oh, we can buy you another 
goose." 

I can't remember the goose's name now. I think I buried it deep 
inside me. It was horrible for me to have my goose cooked — literally. 
It still hurts to think about him. 

Aunt Miriam Stadiem, my favorite aunt, used to visit a lot when 
we lived on Chestnut Street. If I ever acted up, my mother would chase 
me up the stairs with a switch. But if Aunt Miriam was there, I'd yell 
for her to get behind me — and she would do her best to come between 
me and the switch. 

But for the most part, I had a very happy childhood. The overlap- 
ping neighborhoods of Winoca Terrace and Carolina Heights were my 
world back then. One interesting thing is that my best friend in my 
early years was a girl, and her name was Elkie Burgwin. She lived next 
door to us at 1402 Chestnut. Her mother was very active in taking us 
places and doing things with us. She used to take us to the white sand 
pile next to Oakdale Cemetery, which was located at the southern end 
of our neighborhood. Just after you entered the cemetery, you could 
walk towards the south end of 1 5th Street, and there was a half a block 
of white sand, there on the left. We thought it was wonderful. Now 
they have graves in that part of the cemetery. But back then it was just 
an open place. 

Elkie and I rode bikes together. I remember that she got an 

£ 10 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



odometer on her bike before I did — and had put many miles on it. I 
spent the next five years trying to catch up to her, and I don't remem- 
ber if I ever did or not. But I really tried. When we would ride togeth- 
er, I knew we were both accumulating the same amount of miles, so I 
used to zigzag down the road to get more mileage. That seems like yes- 
terday. It's very vivid in my mind. 

Other than Elkie, my best friend was L. W. Fonvielle, who lived 
at 1510 Chestnut Street, one block away. We went a lot of places 
together. We studied that neighborhood and we knew every bump 
in the sidewalk. One day we formed a band. My father had a saxo- 
phone. I guess at one time he could play it. But I never knew how to 

play a saxophone. 
I never took les- 
sons. And L. W 
had a trumpet, 
which I think he 
knew how to play 
a little bit. And 
Weddell Harriss 
had a bugle. So 
we all used to 
march around the 
neighborhood 
playing whatever 
we could think of, but none of us really knew how to play. It was just 
noise, but we thought we were doing something so wonderful. I'm sure 
it killed the people who heard us. 

L. W and I used to play dodge car. We made the game up. We 
would see a car coming down the street and stand on the curb, and 
when it got real near us we would run out and it would almost hit us. 
This was back in the days when you saw Model A and Model T Fords 
on the streets. They didn't go that fast, and they made a lot of noise. 




L. W Fonvielle (left) and Fred Block, about 1936. The house 
in the background, 1406 Chestnut Street, belonged to Mr. 
and Mrs. Benjamin May. 



£ ii & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

We just did that for the sport of it. That game ended when I told Ma 
Sadie about it. 

Across the street was a guy named Bunky White, who was younger 
than me. Gordon Allen, Clayton Holmes, and the Longleys were out 
there, too. The Longley yard on North 15th Street was sort of the 
mecca of the neighborhood. I was a little older than Fannie and Delean 
Longley. Henry Longley was still a baby. But it seemed like age didn't 
matter as much then. The Longleys had a swing in the yard, and all the 
kids used to gravitate there. Three children could sit on each side, fac- 
ing each other, and swing together. We would sing — except that I can't 
sing. But we had fun. It was a great neighborhood. 

Jocelyn Peck (Strange) and Gretter Duffy (Talbert) lived out there. 
I didn't know them well, but the neighborhood gave you a lot of 
acquaintances. Wade Harris and his brother Jim lived on 15th Street 
too. Wade was a little older than me, and Jim was too old for me 
to play with. Then there were the Romeos down the street, and the 
Hickses, a little further down the street. The Noes lived diagonally 
across the street. Thomas Darst Noe later became an Episcopal priest; 
so did L. W. Fonvielle. It was funny with L. W, because back when we 
were kids he never mentioned becoming a priest. Once we started 
school, he was always coming up with schemes to make money. He was 
always asking me, "What do you want to be, Freddie?" 

And of course it was pretty well cut out what I wanted to be. And 
L. W. would say, "You don't have any ambition, Freddie. All you want 
to do is follow in your father's footsteps." And I said, "Well, it seems 
like a pretty good profession to me." 

We would talk about it and argue about it a little bit. But we had 
fun. 

Then L. W and I started school together. We both were in the first 
grade together. Isaac Bear School was a great school. And I'll never for- 
get. My mother took me there the first day, and the front steps were 
very high. Mrs. Nixon, my first-grade teacher, seemed a thousand years 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



old. She was a small lady with glasses and was just as sweet and nice as 
she could be. And that first day of school, she gave me a hug and wel- 
comed me with open arms. My mother never took me to school again. 
We lived about four and a half blocks from school. From that day on, 
I walked to school, whether it was rain, shine, whatever. It was not like 
it is today, where mothers have to take the children and coddle them 
and baby them. I got to school somehow and I got home somehow — 
on my own. 

When it rained, sometimes the mothers would come pick up the 
children, but in those days there weren't many cars. The mothers 
would park in front of the school. There were only about ten parking 
places out there on Market Street, and no one ever had to double-park 
or anything. There was always plenty of room to park. It just shows 
you how few cars there were in the late 1930s. 

While I was in the first grade, the teachers staged a play, and my 

mother coerced me 
into taking a part. 
She was very active 
in the things going 
on at school, and 
she came to the 
rehearsals for the 
play. I had a speak- 
ing part and I wasn't 
happy about it. 

So finally the 
day came for the 
play. And there was 
my mother sitting 
in the audience, 
front and center. I 
started at the edge 




The steps of the Isaac Bear School, located at 13th and 
Market Streets, could look very daunting to a first grader. 
The school, built in 1911—12 (shown here about 1933), 
existed as a grade school until 1947, when it served as the 
first campus for Wilmington College — now the University 
of North Carolina at Wilmington. Today only a back por- 
tion of the building remains. (Star-News photo, 
courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society) 



£ 13& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



of the stage and I was supposed to hop across to the middle — and then 
say my lines. So I started hopping over there from the side — and I hop, 
hop, hopped all the way to the middle of the stage. But then I took an 
unrehearsed right-hand turn and I got right in front of my mother and 
I said, "Mama, I'm not going to do it." And then I hopped off the 
stage. That was the end of my theatrical career. 

Years later, in 1947, 1 remember when Wilmington College began. 

They held the first col- 
lege classes at Isaac Bear 
School — and some of 
the students were sitting 
there in the same desks 
we sat in during grade 
school. 





Above: The Longley lawn at 111 North 
15th Street, with its many swings and 
a merry-go-round, was a favorite spot 
for children in Carolina Heights and 
Winoca Terrace. Clockwise from top 
right: Mrs. H. E. Longley, Delean 
(Gardner), Henry, Fannie (Thomason), 
and Betty (Turner), in the middle of 
the double-sided swing, about 1938. 
Left: H. E. Longley and son Henry (in 
his new cowboy outfit), about 1938. 
(Courtesy of Delean Longley Gardner) 



£ M£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Union Station 

to Grand Central 

I Vly father traveled to New York City many times on business trips. 
He usually took the train out of Wilmington on Sunday and would 
come back on Friday. It was exciting taking him to Union Station. The 
porter came to the car at Front and Red Cross Streets and, being as we 
were regulars, he knew my father's name. All the porters knew my 
father by name. 

The porter on duty would always say something like, "You going 
to New York again? I'll take your bags. Just let me know what com- 
partment you got." Then he would put his luggage on a big green 
metal cart. 

By the time we got there, the bags would be in the compartment 
and my father would give him a nice tip. He'd thank Pa for the tip and 
say, "I'll see you when you get back Friday." 

Pa would return at eight o'clock Friday morning and we'd always 
go down and meet him. The first thing I'd ask him was, "What did you 
bring me?" 

And he'd say, "It's in the bag. I'll give it to you when we get 
home." And he always brought me a present. Pa had good taste in pres- 
ents because he would go to Macy's, where they devoted a whole floor 
to toys, things I had never seen in Wilmington. The other thing he 

£15 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

brought back every time were foods from the delicatessen, because you 
couldn't buy good corned beef or good pastrami or good hot dogs here. 
Not like New York. They were good fat hot dogs, but full of garlic. And 
Pa always brought bread back because he loved good Jewish bread and 
you certainly couldn't buy that in Wilmington. He always said white 
bread was no good — "they take all the vitamins out," he believed. 

The homebound train didn't leave New York until about two in 
the afternoon, so Pa always had a half day for shopping. He did all his 
business Monday through Thursday. He saved Friday morning to shop 
for us. Sometimes he would bring my mother a little piece of jewelry 
or a pocketbook. He took my mother with him to New York about 
once or twice a year, too. She would shop. She had a place in the Vil- 
lage where she bought jewelry. She would press a button and they 
would speak to her through a little opening in the door. The name of 
the jeweler was Rosenberg. 

During World War II, trains were so packed Pa used to have to call 
Harry Stein at the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad offices to get him a 
ticket. The station there was so crowded, it looked like New York City. 
Wilmington was really a different city during the war. 

Before the war, everybody knew everybody on the trains and at the 
depot. We always went out on the tracks to wait for my father. The 
place to sit was where you bought tickets, and there would be only 
twenty people or so in there. But during the war, you had to wait 
behind the gate. 



£ 16 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



KINSTON AND THE STADIEMS 

l\s I remember, we went to Kinston a lot in those years to see my 
mother's family, the Stadiems. They came from Konigsburg in East 
Prussia. My grandmother came by way of Manchester, England, where 
some of the family settled and ran a clothing store. Their name was 
really something different. It started with an "S" and was very long, but 
I guess the officials at Ellis Island or wherever just gave them a new 
name and misspelled it. 

When I was a boy, I was the only grand- 
child on both sides of the family. I really 
had it made then. Everybody would 
fight to play with me and buy me any- 
thing I wanted, within reason. 

One of my earliest Kinston 
memories is the day that I was walk- 
ing down the street with my grandfa- 
ther Stadiem. We ran into a friend of 
his and he said to me in that question- 
ing way that is really a statement, "Fred- 
die, you know Mr. Smith?" 

I answered, "No, I don't know Mr. 
Smith — and I don't want to know Mr. Siblings Moses and Sadie 
Smith!" I must have gotten a good scold- Stadiem, about 1908 

■SL 173: 




Tales of a Shirtmaker 

ing, because I remember that day so well. And I never did that again. 
The Stadiems kept good relations with the residents of Kinston. They 
knew them by name and they got a lot of return business. 

My grandfather Stadiem and his siblings learned the retail business 
and the art of getting along from their father, David Stadiem, who was 
a Greensboro merchant. They became so well known that in 1926, 
when my parents married in Kinston, all the churches in town brought 
their altar flowers to my grandparents' house Sunday afternoon for 
them to use as wedding flowers. 

When I was seven or eight years old, at Christmastime, my grand- 
parents were so busy in the Kinston store that they would let me be 
cashier for small items like neckties and handkerchiefs. As I got older, 
I progressed to bigger items, but I started small. Christmas was always 
a working situation in my mother's family. They did not make any 
nods towards keeping the Christian holiday. Both my parents were 
strict about that, too with one exception. I wanted a Christmas tree so 
badly. All my gentile friends had them and they were so pretty. One 
year before I started school, my parents bought a medium-sized Christ- 
mas tree and decorated it with lights and a few ornaments. They placed 
it near a back wall of the living room. I guess my mother engineered 
it, but after that she was outvoted. My parents never had another 
Christmas tree. 

On Sundays in Kinston, my Uncle Jake would take me out to the 
golf course and let me hit golf balls. My grandparents were charter 
members of the country club there. Jake was a pretty good golfer. He 
would come close to par sometimes. He could beat my father at golf. 
And when I went with them, I'd get about one good hit in three balls. 

At other times, I would go out with Uncle Abe and Uncle Isaac 
and they'd show me how to play tennis. I was a better tennis player 
than golfer. But I was certainly not in a league with them. Abe was by 
far the best player, as tennis players go, but Isaac would unnerve him 
with a string of chatter and sort of cutesy shots with the tennis racket, 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



almost always beating Abe. 
Isaac looked sort of like Jerry 
Springer, but he was a lot more 
jovial. He was the charmer. 

After tennis or golf, we'd go 
back to the house and have a 
fried chicken dinner. Emma, 
the maid, would fry lots of 
chickens — about eight or ten 
chickens — and we had fun eat- 
ing them. Each one of the 
Stadiems had a part of the 
chicken that they ate. David 
Stadiem was the baby and he 
got first choice — and he ate the 
breast. Isaac was sort of the next 
favorite, and he ate the other 
breast. Ma Sadie always got the 
wings. And the rest of them 
fended for themselves. When I 
was there, I liked the legs. 

But it was always fun eating 




Isaac Stadiem, Freds uncle, ran a clothing 
store in Kinston and a satellite store in 
Wilmington. 



there because there were at least twelve people around the table. My 
grandmother always made delicious desserts. My grandmother kept a 
kosher kitchen, but she ate oysters. There were always those exceptions. 
During the mid- 1 940s, my grandmother became very sick, and we 
went to Kinston if not every weekend at least twice a month. The 
speed limits were lower because of wartime shortages. But my mother 
was a lead foot and really put down the gas — and we made it there in 
an hour and half. Ninety miles — I don't know how we didn't get 
caught — but I never saw a policeman. But she was a good driver. I 
always felt safe with her. 



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Tales of a Shirtmaker 

Sometimes my mother and I would go on Friday, and my father 
would come on Saturday. The trip to Kinston was something I looked 
forward to. I was the right age for it then. My grandparents had an old- 
fashioned frame house with a big wraparound porch. I was young 
enough to stay there and be content with the company of the 
Stadiems. 

It was fun playing around the store. Uncle Isaac Stadiem had 
ladies' stores in Wilson and Wilmington. The one in Wilmington, in 
fact, was called "The Ladies' Store." Isaac had a wild streak to go with 
his charm — and his own private door into his house. He had known 
how to flatter since childhood, and he got by with a lot. He'd go right 
into the ladies' dressing rooms and ask if they needed anything. The 
customers would be half-clothed but he would be complimenting 
them so hard that most of them didn't object. 

Uncle Abraham had his own men's store in Kinston. Uncle Jake 
and Uncle David were always at H. Stadiem in Kinston. Two of the 
other boys, Moses and Isaac, went to college, but my grandfather said 
that their education was hazardous to his business. They worked else- 
where. 

One morning my father woke me up and said to me, "Get dressed, 
we are going to Kinston." He woke my mother up, and that was 
unusual because she was always up first. And she said, "What are we 
going over for? They didn't tell me we were going over this morning." 

And he said, "Your father got sick last night. He had a heart attack 
and he is not expected to live. So they want us to come over." Natu- 
rally Ma Sadie cried a lot and we all got dressed. I was ten years old at 
the time and my younger brother, David, was only about two. When 
we got to Kinston, we found out that my grandfather Stadiem had 
died of the heart attack that night. And I always thought after that that 
my father knew before we got there and was trying to brace my moth- 
er for the news. 

The funeral was the next day. And everybody was there. It was a 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



huge funeral. People from all over the state came. Kinston is different 
from Wilmington. It's sort of in the middle of the state. It's easy to 
get there. People came to the store from Greensboro, Raleigh, 
Durham, just everywhere. There were many Stadiem relatives, 

descended from my great-grandfa- 
ther, David Stadiem. At that time 
they all kept in touch. 

Even after the funeral, my 
mother continued to go to Kinston 
a lot, and I was still the perfect age 
to go with her. My grandmother 
miraculously recovered. And things 
went along pretty well. Aunt Miri- 
am stayed there with her and took 
care of her. Miriam worked in the 
store with David and Jake. Aunt 
Frances married Joe Barshay. 

Uncle Isaac finally lost the 
Wilmington store because he didn't 
pay attention to his business. He 
wasn't like the other brothers. But 
no matter what, he was my favorite 
uncle. He had such spirit. His son, William (Billy) Stadiem, is an 
accomplished writer who recently co-authored Dear Senator, the mem- 
oirs of Essie Mae Washington Williams, among other biographies. 

In going to Kinston, I had lots of time to explore everything about 
the stores and the town. What I did mostly on weekends was go to 
movies. In fact, I watched one whole serial — The Lone Ranger or 
maybe Zorro — because we went there so often. 

There was a locked door in the Stadiem house and I always won- 
dered what was behind it. After much exploring, I finally found a key 
that would fit the door. It led to an attic room with lots of books, most- 




Siblings David Stadiem and Sadie 
Stadiem Block, 1998 (photo by 
Susan Block) 



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Tales of a Shirtmaker 



ly schoolbooks. But it 
was very interesting. 
And there were chil- 
dren's clothes and 
toys. It was just like a 
little children's muse- 
um. 

My Stadiem rela- 
tives never introduced 
me to children to play 
with in Kinston. 
What I think is that 
they wanted me to be 
their companion and 
be their little play toy. 
Once I got older, I 
quit going to Kinston 
because I had my own 
thing to do. 

I remember that 
a sad event happened 
when I was traveling 
on the road. I was in 
Charlottesville, Virginia, and I got a telephone call that night from my 
mother that my grandmother had died. I was to come to Kinston as 
soon as I could. My mother was there when she died. She was in con- 
trol of herself that time. She was prepared for the event because my 
grandmother had been sick so much. I got there the next day. I went 
to the funeral and saw all my relatives, and then I went back to Char- 
lottesville and picked up where I left off. 

I have always been proud of the Stadiems. They had great disci- 
pline. My mother and all her siblings won awards for never being tardy 




Fred (left) and Nathan Block on the Stadiems' front 
porch, Kinston, 1942 



£22£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

to school. I think all eight of them went through school without ever 
being tardy. And my grandfather and Uncle David and Hyman always 
ran the Kinston store as a model of small-town retail business. 



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Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Fred, Sadie, and David Block on the side porch on Chestnut Street, Wilmington, 1936 



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A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Flown from the Coop 



JL he first grade and second grade are not complete blurs to me, but I 
was sort of a baby. Before my brother David was born my mother kept 
me under her wing. Wherever she went, I went. Most places I went, 
she went. When I got home from school, she would say, "You're home, 
darling! Let's go here. Let's go there. Did you have your milk?" 

She kept me sort of "babyfied" those two years. Then David was 
born when I was in the third grade. I'll never forget that. I was sitting 
in school and my teacher, Mrs. Young, came over to me and sort of 
whispered in my ear, "You've got a little brother. Your father's waiting 
outside and he's going to take you and let you see him." 

I grew up that day. I really grew up that day. From then on, I was, 
I guess, a man. My mother transferred all the babyness to David. She 
stayed with him and did everything with him and for him, and sort of 
let me be on my own. My mother never lacked loving me, but she put 
all the stuff on David that she used to put on me. That was wonderful, 
because I would have grown up to be a big baby if she hadn't — and as 
it was, she let me sort of fend for myself. And David had to work out 
things for himself. 

The day after David was born, my father put me on a train to Wil- 
son to spend some time with relatives there. He put a tag on me that 
said, "Let him off at Wilson." 

Miriam Stadiem, my mother's sister, was running the store in Wil- 

£ 25 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

son at the time. So she met me at the train. I survived. It was fun 
because I could tell everybody that I rode the train all by myself. Some- 
one else from Kinston came and got me later that week. It was about 
Christmastime, and I spent at least a week at Wilson and Kinston. 

In the third grade, it seemed like my athletic ability got better and 
that everything I did, I did better. I didn't know how to roller skate 
until then. But after David was born, somehow or another, I just let go 
and started skating. I remember also about that time that Elkie Burg- 
win moved away. Her family moved to Fifth Street. They had a house 
down there and they rented their house on Chestnut Street out. I real- 
ly missed her when she moved, but they were only gone for a year or 
two. One day I saw her walking down Chestnut Street towards our 
house. I was on skates and I was so happy to see her. I started skating 
towards her and she said, "Oh, you know how to skate! You know how 
to skate!" 

And I said, "Yes, I do." I felt so pleased that I had learned how to 
skate while she was away. It was wonderful having her back. She was a 
good friend all the way through grammar school. She was always there, 
and we would walk to school and back together a lot. They had pro- 
grams then that I don't know if they have now — like a play at school 
or maybe a singalong, or just different little things. Sometimes they 
cost a nickel, sometimes a dime; sometimes they were free. So once a 
week, or twice a month, we went to those events and it was wonder- 
ful. Elkie and I could walk at night to Isaac Bear School. Nobody even 
thought about being afraid. We would just pick up and take off. A lot 
of times we met other children there, like a girl named Betty Shuman 
we used to visit. 

There are a lot of little things I remember from grammar school 
days. When I was in the first grade I was maybe a little larger than most 
of the boys in my class. And I sort of took it upon myself to be the pro- 
tector of some of the girls who were put upon by some of the older 
boys. I remember one morning before school, a boy named Claude Jor- 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

dan — I haven't thought about that name in years — was doing some- 
thing that annoyed the girls. I said to him, "You can't do that." 

And he said, "I can't do that? What do you mean? I'll show you." 
And he started punching me, and I just beat him to a pulp. Finally the 
teacher, Mrs. Nixon, pulled us apart and I went into the school. 

The teacher asked me, "Why did you do that?" I explained it and 
she said she understood. 

"But look," I said. "Claude Jordan tore my shirt. Look-a there, it's 
all ruined." 

Mrs. Nixon said to me, "Well, a shirt is the best thing he could 
ruin." And I guess she was right. 



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Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Traffic Boy Block 

Xrom the fifth to the eighth grades I was a traffic boy at 13th and 
Market Streets, a busy intersection right in front of the school build- 
ings. I remember seeing a sea of people walking to New Hanover High 
School every day from the downtown area. A lot of families still lived 
down there at the time. 

I walked to school every time after the first day of first grade. I 
walked come rain or come shine. And there were always traffic boys on 
the major corners going to school, to guard at crossings. You had to be 
in the sixth grade to be a traffic boy. So it was all I could do to wait 
until the sixth grade to be a traffic boy, because I thought that was the 
best job in the world. 

I also joined so I could go to the picnic at the end of the year. The 
picnic was at Carolina Beach and we got out of school for the day. 
Policemen took us in buses and supervised. You could go into the bath- 
house to change clothes into your bathing suit. They really didn't 
supervise us too much; they just let us out of the bus and fed us. At 
lunchtime, the policemen cooked hamburgers and hot dogs out on the 
beach. We had soft drinks. If we had our own money, we could go on 
the rides on the boardwalk and go inside all the little shops. It was fun. 
Then I'd walk home to our beach cottage, since we would usually move 
to the beach for the summer just before school got out. 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

The best intersection to be a traffic boy was 13th and Market 
Streets. It was very busy, and there was a policeman who stood in the 
middle of the street directing traffic. The southeast and the northwest 
corners were the best traffic boy spots. I wanted the northwest corner 
because it was the busiest and needed a traffic boy the most. The 
policeman gave it to me during the last month when I was in the fifth 
grade, but I couldn't keep the assignment when I was in the sixth grade 
because someone older than me got it. 

Since I couldn't get that busy corner, I made a new corner for any- 
one who might want to cross on 13th Street. You really didn't need 
anybody there, but I wanted to be there and the policeman let me. The 
high school students would walk down Market Street and cross there 
and they didn't like to pay an attention to a little sixth-grader from 
Isaac Bear. I tried to get them to stop and they would ignore me, but 
the policeman, Mr. Wilson, told them they had to do what I said. He 
would blow his whistle for me when he had the time, and then the stu- 
dents started stopping for me. I was so proud — I would hold my little 
arms up there for them to stop. 

Of course I knew all the grammar school students and some of the 
high school students, and after a while they all got to know me. I did 
that job in the sixth and seventh grades. 

When I was in the eighth grade, my family moved to Forest Hills. 
I rode my bicycle to school from there and I couldn't get there by eight 
a.m. If you weren't a traffic boy for at least six weeks, you couldn't go 
on the picnic. So the last six weeks of the school year I figured out that 
I would take the crossing at the fire station at 17th and Dock, nearer 
to Forest Hills. The Pure Oil filling station, which was sort of out in 
the middle of the street, had a triangular plaza decorated with flowers 
and a statue of a little boy with a fishing rod. I could get to that cross- 
ing before the head traffic boy arrived. He started at 13th and Market, 
checking on all the guards, and it took him fifteen minutes to get there. 
I got to go on the picnic that last year. 

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Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Life in a Streetcar City 

W hen I was young, Wilmington had a trolley system with streetcars 
and beach cars. They were all loud: clackety-clack, clackety-clack. The 
beach car came down Princess Street and made a right turn where my 
grandfathers house was, one lot from the corner of 17th and Princess. 
Then it went straight down 1 7th Street to about Castle Street, and on 
through Bellamy Park to Park Avenue. From there the beach car went 
all the way down Park Avenue to Wrightsville Beach. 

The regular streetcar also went down Princess and turned onto 
17th, where it went south past Market and turned left on Perry 
Avenue. Then it went down about four blocks on Perry to 20th Street, 
where it turned right and stopped at the end of Metts Avenue. Then it 
simply changed direction and came back. 

When a streetcar turned around, the conductor just took the con- 
trols from one end to the other. Each end was the same, but the motor- 
man would take the wand from the first car to the last car and rehook 
it to the power line above the cars. 

We took our milk from Swart's Dairy because they had the fresh- 
est milk in town. The dairy was out in Castle Hayne, north of town. 
They had Guernsey and Jersey cows and they gave the richest milk, 
with lots of cream. Echo Farms, south of town, had Holstein cows that 
gave lighter milk, so today they would be the most popular. 

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A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

On Saturday mornings, when I was eight or nine or so, the milk- 
man would come around with an old-fashioned horse and wagon. I 
would ride a block or two with the milkman, and he would cover one 
side of the street and I would cover the other. I'd take a fresh bottle of 
milk to the porch and pick up the empty bottle. When we walked away 
from the truck to take the glass bottles, the horse was trained to walk 
up a house or two and wait for us. I thought delivering milk was the 
greatest thing. 

Within three blocks of my house there were three grocery stores 
and two drugstores. The grocery stores were all along 12th Street: one 
at Chestnut, one at Princess, and one at Market. All the grocery stores 
sold penny candies, and about three times a week my friends and I 
would walk up to the store and buy candies. Sometimes we would have 
two or three pennies in our pocket. But when we didn't we would 
scour the neighborhood and look for drink bottles and milk bottles. 
Milk bottles we got a nickel for, and drink bottles brought two cents. 
We thought we were rich when we found a milk bottle, but the only 
ones we got a nickel for were ones that said "5 cents" on the bottle. 
Home delivery milk bottles brought no money, just those sold in the 
stores. 

The only "fast food" near my house was Pete's Hotdogs and Ham- 
burgers at 13th and Princess Streets. The Barkas family owned Pete's. 
The hot dogs were really good. They had chili and onions. Hamburg- 
ers were ten cents, or two for fifteen. Hot dogs were a nickel. They were 
the best. 

We had friends close by. Bobby Bellamy lived on Market Street 
next to Trinity Methodist Church; we used to play football in his back 
yard, which went all the way to Princess Street. Bert Miars, L. W Fon- 
vielle, Harold Jeter, Gleason Allen, Davis Howes, George Johnson — all 
of us lived close and played football together. We played on Saturday 
mornings and sometimes during the week, in the afternoons. I was just 
a little thing and I'd get out there and I'd get hit, but it didn't make any 

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Tales of a Shirtmaker 

difference. It was just fun playing. 

Sometimes we played hockey in the street, between Princess and 
Chestnut, on 15th Street. Traffic was light and when a car came, we'd 
make them wait until we were finished with the play. We used a flat- 
tened can as the puck. Then each of us would find a long stick. We'd 
go up in the woods near Oakdale Cemetery and hunt for sticks. Then 
my father got me a better stick. He got someone at the factory to get 
me a special one that looked like a hockey stick. Archie McGirt, 
Frankie Gainey, Dolan Norris, or one of the other mechanics at the 
factory probably made it. 

Everybody got along in our neighborhood. John Codington was 
part of the neighborhood. Toppy (John) Evans lived on the corner. 
Everybody sort of meshed together. Everybody walked. It wasn't a mat- 
ter of getting your mother to take you somewhere in a car. If you 
couldn't walk, you just didn't go. Neighborhoods today are not that 
way. 

In the summer, people had their windows and doors open for "air 
conditioning." When Mrs. Burgwin played the piano next door, we 
had music in our house too. Screen doors and screen windows kept out 
the bugs — some of the bugs, anyway. 

Our neighborhood was our social club. Every Friday night, we'd 
get together at somebody's house. Sometimes it would be all girls in 
one house and all boys in another. Sometimes it would be mixed. We'd 
just sit there and have a good time, even if we weren't doing anything 
in particular. 

Our gang crossed into a lot of different areas. Helen Romeo lived 
down the street, and so did Barbara deCover. They weren't particular- 
ly close friends, but we visited in each others' houses. Gordon Allen, 
who was a little younger than I was, and his brother who was a little 
older, lived right across the street. And sometimes Lemuel Allen would 
go off with his old friends, and sometimes he would stay with us and 
do whatever we did — which was really nothing. We would just talk 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

and hang out together. 

Sometimes we would walk up to the drugstore, one time Hall's 
Drugstore then another time Lane's — and then Hall's again. Hall's was 
between 16th and 17th, on Market Street. Old Doc Hall was really a 
nice man. He never called us down, even though I'm sure we annoyed 
him a lot. 

And of course Jarman's Drug Store was there, but we didn't like 
Jarman's as much. Mr. Jarman was always there and he never would let 
us get away with anything. He was a nice man, but he'd say, "Oh no. 
You're not going to make all that noise." 

We didn't have television in those days, so radio was the main 
source of news and entertainment at home. We had a radio in the liv- 
ing room, and sometimes we listened as a family. My father liked the 
news and he would go to the living room to listen after dinner. I would 
go to the breakfast room to do my studies. We only had one radio sta- 
tion in Wilmington, which didn't broadcast all day long. They were 
only on the air for certain hours. So we had to get programs from other 
places and there was lots of static. 

The radios were big and stood on the floor. The dial was flat, in 
line with the straight front of the radio. Adults had to bend down to 
read it, but I remember being short enough so that it was just right. 
Eventually Philco designed a new front for the radio and the dial was 
turned up, at the forty-five-degree angle. They advertised it as "No 
stoop, no squat, no squint." 

When I was eight or nine, I used to ride my bicycle downtown to 
the Royal Theater. Sometimes I'd go alone, or sometimes with L. W or 
Weddell. The Royal marquee had lighted rabbits all around it. They 
blinked on and off at night to make it look like the rabbits were run- 
ning around the sign. The Royal had a cowboy show on every Satur- 
day. 

I never went to the Bijou, the other downtown movie theater. By 
that time, it stank. I mean it really stank — I think old men would 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

relieve themselves in there. 

The third theater was the Carolina, on Market Street. I never went 
there by myself. I went there with my mother and father several times, 
but the Carolina didn't show the kind of movies I wanted to see at that 
time. 

Sometimes we boys would walk up to Rose Ice, at 12th and Mar- 
ket Streets. They had instruments that would score the two-hundred- 
pound block into twenty-five- and fifty-pound blocks. The scoring 
blade would descend onto the big block and when it lifted, or was lift- 
ed, little pieces of ice would fall off. The boys in the neighborhood ate 
the little pieces. 

I used to play tennis at Pembroke Jones Playground and Robert 
Strange Park. I was playing a lot at Robert Strange Park when I was 
about nine or ten years old and I got to be the seventh-ranked player. 
Charlie Boney was first back then; Tommy Snell was number two. 

I think I would have been ranked higher, but I played with a book 
under my shirt. It was my Hebrew School book. I had to go to Hebrew 
School at the Temple of Israel every day after regular school, and I did- 
n't want anyone to see the book. I carried the rest of my books in the 
basket of my bicycle. The Hebrew book had a green cover and when I 
sweated playing tennis, the green would rub off on my shirt. I don't 
think Ma Sadie ever noticed. 



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A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Set Apart 

1 don't remember what year it started, but when I was a young boy, I 
attended the old synagogue on Walnut Street, between Third and 
Fourth streets. I went with my grandfather, William Block, who lived 
on Princess Street between 16th and 17th. His house was right where 
the streetcar came through, making a curve. 

My grandfather loved me. I was the first grandchild. I was named 
for my grandmother, who had died not long before I was born. In the 
Jewish faith, children are not named for living family members. It's 
better that way; everyone living has a clearer identity. And there was an 
old saying that the angel of death might get confused about who to 
take back with him if there were too many people with the same name. 

When children are named for those who have died, they can just 
use the first letter of the name. My grandmother's name was Fannie, so 
they named me Frederick. It wouldn't be good to name a boy Fannie. 
Her middle name was Leah, so mine is Lee. My cousins Franklin Block 
and Felice Guld were also named for her. My grandfather thought it 
was wonderful that I was named for her. And everything I did was just 
wonderful to him. I called him Mappa, and later Grandpa. He would 
walk to my house on Chestnut, and from there we walked together to 
the synagogue. That was a pretty good walk for a little kid. 

The first time he just showed up and said, "Come on and walk 
with me?" My mother put my pretty little clothes on me, and we 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




The Temple of Israel at 1 South Fourth Street, Wilmington. According to Wilmington 
historian Beverly Tetterton, the Temple may have been designed by architect Samuel 
Sloan. The William Block family lived in the house pictured at right in the early 
1920s. (Courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society) 

walked down the street just as big as you please. Of course I was tired 
when we got there. I sat through the service and I didn't know what 
was going on. It was all in Hebrew. Mappa said, "Just sit there and be 
quiet." He would come sit with me sometimes, but about half the time 
at least he was up on the bema. He was taking part in the service. 

We usually walked down Princess Street, because the sidewalks on 
Chestnut were not paved all the way downtown. We walked all the way 
there because my grandfather was an Orthodox Jew and didn't believe 
in riding anywhere on Shabbat. I did that from the time I was a little 
boy until I was at least eleven. When we got there, often the congrega- 
tion would have trouble forming a minyan because there were barely 
enough men there. A minyan is ten men, thirteen years or older. There 
were eight hard-core regulars who almost never missed the service. 
Usually they would have to go out and find two other men. 

The telephone at the synagogue was downstairs. The windows of 



£36& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

that floor were about half above ground and half under ground. They 
weren't supposed to use the phone on the Sabbath, but they rational- 
ized it was all right. And whoever was in charge that day would say, 
"Go downstairs and call so and so." The caller would come back 
upstairs and report, "Can't come today." 

Most of the time they would get ten, but sometimes they would 
just have nine. Then they would look at me and say, "Okay, we'll count 
you as one." So when I was only ten or eleven, I was part of a minyan 
a lot of times. A little later, when I was about ten to twelve, I used to 
hold the weight of the Torah at the synagogue. Before that, I used to 
tie the string around it. 

Sometimes, when they couldn't get nine adults, the congregation 
had a shortened service that they did without a minyan — and I used to 
pray for that shorter service. Instead of reading the service out loud, 
they would read it to themselves and they could read it faster that way. 
So instead of an hour service, it was about twenty minutes. 




The B'nai Israel Synagogue building at 313 Walnut Street, Wilmington, served 
the congregation from 1913 until 1954, when members built a new structure at 
2601 Chestnut Street (see page 42). (Courtesy Cape Fear Museum) 



£37& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

I liked that so I could get home sooner and I could go out and 
play. Usually, we left my house about 8:15 for the 9:00 a.m. service. 
Then at ten, we would go downtown for a while and I'd be back home 
about 11:30. When they didn't have a minyan, I got home before 
eleven, and it didn't take me long to find my friends because I knew 
where everybody was playing. It wasn't that I didn't like being with my 
grandfather. I loved being with him. But I wanted to get home as soon 
as I could. 

Mr. Louis Schwartz, Mr. Abe D'Lugin, Mr. Benjamin Kingoff, 
Mr. Benjamin May, Mr. Abel, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Raymond Retchin, Mr. 
Horowitz, Mr. Jaffe, Mr. Simon, Mr. Joseph Freedland, and Mr. 
Neuwirth were there often. I got to be a regular, even though I didn't 
actually participate. My grandfather just liked to have me there with 
him. 

Mr. Schwartz was a very devout and genuine man. He was presi- 
dent of the synagogue about every other year. In the alternating years, 
my grandfather was president. 

My grandfather Block was faithful in attendance and often was the 
one who went seeking an extra member or two to form a minyan on 
Saturday mornings. He spent a lot of time every night reading his 
Bible. He even built a booth in his back yard every year for Sukkoth. 
Sometimes on Shabbat or the holiday, he'd come over to me and ask 
me for a light for his cigarette — because you're not supposed to light a 
match on a holy day. 

Since the entire service was in Hebrew, I barely knew one word of 
what was going on at the synagogue. The pews were wooden and hard. 
On holy days, I would often go downstairs with friends my age. I 
remember Albert Levine, who later was at the Citadel with me, being 
there. 

Sometimes at the synagogue I'd stay out as much as I stayed in. On 
holidays, we would walk to Saffo's store at the corner of 4th and Red 
Cross Streets. It would be one happy family there. You'd see young and 

£ 38& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

old, and some people were eating breakfast and some lunch. I enjoyed 
the penny candy. You could get one piece of round chewing gum or 
one of the hard candies, single chocolates, or jawbreakers. It was just 
fun. Sometimes we'd stay out more than we stayed in. 

On Saturdays at the synagogue, the men would listen to the Torah 
and chant, "Shema Israel!" They sang. The men really enjoyed the serv- 
ice. They were so happy. It made me see religion in a special way. It 
wasn't something you had to do; it was something that made you 
happy. They were so pleased doing all these things that their faces 
shone. They would get up on the bema and they would pray and do 
whatever they had to do. But when they finished, they enjoyed every 
little minute that they took. 

When the service was over, the men would pull out some bourbon 
and shot glasses. They called it "schnapps," which is Yiddish for alco- 
holic spirits. Before and after they took a drink, they would shout in 
unison, "Halichey Yeddin!" There wasn't any chatter among them, but 
there was great fellowship. 

Mr. Morris Cohen was sort of the old master. He had a long beard, 
and he was so old that every time he stood up I was afraid he would 
fall down. After the service he would take a little snuff and put it up 
his nose and sneeze. He was also sort of the keeper of the booze. He 
had a pint bottle of whisky stowed away in the synagogue, inside the 
lectern that was on the left-hand side, up front, near the bema. 

Sometimes the rabbi, Isaac Minsky, would walk home with my 
grandfather and me from the synagogue on Walnut Street. He had a 
mustache and he lived on Princess between 13th and 14th, just about 
a block away from us. 

Often when it was just my grandfather and me returning, we 
would first go downtown and visit with Mosias the tailor, in the 300 
block of North Front Street. Mosias came from Riga, the same Euro- 
pean town as my grandfather. His shop was right over Merrick's Bar- 
ber Shop, where I went to have my hair cut from the time I was about 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

three years old. We'd go up there with Mosias and sit there — and they 
would talk in English if it involved me. But when the two men talked, 
it was always Yiddish. My grandfather was a man of few words, and 
that's the only place I ever saw him really enjoy talking. They held 
memories together that others wouldn't understand. 

It was just pleasant to be there with them. I would sit there and 
they would give me something to drink like a Pepsi, and sometimes I 
would eat some candy. Sometimes they would give me a book to look 
at or I would look out the second-story window onto Front Street. 
There was always a lot to see out there. 

In Orthodox Judaism, you're not supposed to have any money on 
you on Shabbat, which is Saturday. And my grandfather would walk 
down the street with me and he'd look over at me and he'd say, "I'll buy 
you something. What do you want at the 5-and-10-cent store?" Kress's, 
down on North Front Street in the old Masonic Temple, was his 
favorite. We'd go in and he'd buy me a yo-yo or some little something. 
It wasn't much, but it was just the idea that he wasn't supposed to buy 
anything or spend any money on Saturday. He did everything right 
except what he did for me. It was an honor. 

My grandfather never took the streetcar to or from synagogue 
because it went against the rules of Shabbat. One summer day it was 
very hot and he said to me, "I know this is too much for you. Come 
on. I'll take you on the streetcar home." That was a beautiful thought 
for him, really. His religion was so important to him, he would never 
do that for himself. But he loved me and felt sorry for me. In fact, tak- 
ing the streetcar was doubly against the rules because you weren't sup- 
posed to take any money with you either. He almost always gave me a 
quarter, too. 

My grandfather was usually so careful about the rules, but he loved 
me and he saw that as bigger than the rules. It made me love him even 
more. He never asked for anything; all he ever did was give. I stayed 
very close to him for all the years I could be with him. 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

Religion was a different thing in my house. My mother was a very 
good, very chaste woman. She did not have a passion for religion, but 
the conviction was there, though. She told me that when she was a girl 
in Kinston, a friend asked her to go to a big outdoor revival. My moth- 
er, who was about ten at the time, didn't see that it could do any harm 
and went along to be with her friend. At the end of the service the 
preacher sort of gave a twist to the old invitation to become a Christ- 
ian. He asked anyone who didn't believe in Jesus to stand up. My 
mother stood up — the only one to do so. 

After my parents were married, my mother moved our family from 
the synagogue to the temple because she didn't like hearing the service 
in Hebrew. It must have been a funny feeling for my father to leave it. 
I'm sure he could see the spirit in those men's faces. I would think he 
felt torn between my mother's wishes and his father's preference for the 
synagogue. But he never talked about it. I don't remember either of my 
parents teaching me anything directly about the Jewish religion. 

I do know my father used to love to go over to my grandfather's 
house every night after dinner. It seemed strange to me, and it still 
does, that we would eat dinner at our house and then ride over there. 
When we got there, my father would sit in the living room and read 
magazines and my grandfather would sit in his room reading the Bible. 
They spoke when we came in and spoke when we left. And that's about 
all there was to it. 

Usually we would stay about thirty to forty-five minutes. Even if 
my father and grandfather were sitting in the same room, they said lit- 
tle or nothing. They had some sort of camaraderie there that I never 
did understand. But I accepted it. 

As a family, we went to the temple on Fourth Street, but then on 
High Holy Days, we'd go to the temple on the first day and the syna- 
gogue on the second. At the temple, you'd sit down for two hours and 
you couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't talk, couldn't do any- 
thing. At the synagogue, you could talk while you're sitting there, or 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




B'nai Israel, Wilmington, today (Courtesy B'nai Israel Synagogue) 

you could move around. 

A different group went to the Temple of Israel from those who 
attended the synagogue. There were only a few families there then, but 
they were strong ones. The Bluethenthal, Jacobi, Solomon, Sternberg- 
er, and Bear families were the temple at that time, in the 1930s and 40s. 

At the synagogue on Walnut Street, everything was done the real 
old-fashioned Orthodox way. They even had a mitvah in the basement. 
I guess it was very popular when indoor plumbing was scarce, but it 
was seldom used by the time I was a boy. A mitvah is a ceremonial bath 
women were to take every month. Just before women got married, they 
always went to the mitvah to be ceremonially clean. My father's favorite 
joke, which I remember hearing from the time I was three years old, 
was that he wanted to be a lifeguard at the mitvah. 

There was never a woman at the synagogue on Saturday morning. 
The women would come on Friday nights and holidays. They sat 
upstairs and they dressed to the nines, and all they did was talk. I guess 
some of them knew how to read Hebrew, but you'd look up there and 
all they did was yak, yak, yak. They had a ball. It was a social thing for 
them. It was always full. It was never empty up there in the "rafters," 
as we called it. The only time they'd be quiet was when the rabbi was 
giving a sermon. They gave him that courtesy, but he would have to hit 
his hand on the book and look up there and say, "Yaah, yaah, yaah!" 

But I loved that synagogue. 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Ma Sadie and Freddie Boy 

Before I was born, my parents were neighbors of artist Claude 
Howell, who lived in the Carolina Apartments at Fifth and Market 
when my parents still lived in the first block of South Fifth Street. 
Claude and my father's niece Shirley Block became great lifelong 
friends. One day in 1927, Ma Sadie, Claude, and Shirley were taking a 
walk. On the spur of the moment, Shirley and Claude decided to run 
around the block, something they customarily did. My mother, preg- 
nant with me at the time, ran with them — and about halfway, she faint- 
ed. She had always been very athletic and it never occurred to her that 
she shouldn't run in that condition. 

One night when she was nearly eight months pregnant, my moth- 
er was at the temple with my father. They heard the sirens coming from 
the fire station down that block, and my mother had a premonition 
that it was the shirt factory on fire. (That was the factory on Hanover 
Street, between Third and Front, that we were leasing from the Bear 
family. There was a Nehi bottling plant there too. My father and the 
manager of the Nehi place used to have schnapps together after work, 
much to my mother's dismay.) 

Someone came rushing into the temple to get my father: the facto- 
ry was on fire. He rode with someone, then my mother got a ride, too. 
Even in her condition she ran down the cobblestone street beside the 

£43 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



old factory on North Front at Hanover. She had to get to her Nathan. 
My mother may have ridden with someone to the fire that night, 
but she could drive. I remember her telling me how she drove her fam- 
ily up north when she was just fifteen years old. They had a touring car 
called an Apperson Jackrabbit, with translucent windows that could be 
removed. She and her eight siblings were getting out of the car one day 
and a stranger asked if it was an incubator. 

After the fire in the factory, the lease had some time remaining on 
it and they fixed the building up so that the company could get back 
into it. Meanwhile, my father bought the old Wilmington Printing 
business that fronted on Greenfield Street between Second and Third. 
We moved over in the 1930s. I don't remember the old factory, but I 
have many memories of the one on Greenfield. 

At the Hanover Street factory, they were producing about 100,000 
dozen shirts a year, but they weren't making any boys' shirts at the 
time. The finest shirt the company made was called Sir William, 

named after my grandfather. 

Then I came along. My 
father and grandfather were 
so happy that they closed the 
factory for the day on 
November 17, the day I was 
born. "Now that we have a 



StrUHUmm 

SHIRTS 



grandson, we're going to 
name a shirt 'Freddie Boy,'" they said. I wish I had one of those labels. 
They were the cutest little things you ever saw. The name was in script, 
underlined by the tail of the "F." 

Some of the older people at the factory called me Freddie Boy. A 
lot of them called me Freddie even after I was running the place. It 
never seemed disrespectful. They had earned the right through senior- 
ity. I enjoyed my time in the factory when I was a boy, and it felt like 
home. 



:£44£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




This aerial view of the Block Shirt factory was probably taken about 1938, when it 
was located in the 200 block of south Greenfield Street. The entrance was moved to 
1510 South Third Street about 1948, when a new wing was added. (Courtesy Cape 
Fear Museum.) Below: Advertisement for Block shirts 

WHERE FASHION IS THE 
REAL THING! 




MEN'S & BOYS' SHIRTS- / America - S No . , shirt VaIue 

Block-Southland Sportswear 



KNITS & CUT AND SEWN 
BLOCK INDUSTRIES, INC. 



Pablo Shirts Patriot Shirt Co. 
Sales offices in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami 



£45 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Sports in the 1 930s 

In the 1930s, the major league sport of interest for us was baseball. Of 
course there was no television then. During the World Series, the 
owner of the Morning Star constructed a large wooden board outside 
the newspaper offices in the Murchison Building at the corner of Front 
and Chestnut Streets as a way of indicating the action as it was hap- 
pening miles away and reported on radio. 

That was one time my mother did go out of her way to transport 
me. After school, she would drive me downtown and drop me off 
around the post office. I would stand with hundreds of people watch- 
ing and listening to the World Series. The board was constructed and 
wired so that when a batter hit the ball, a ball would go into the area 
where the real hit went. If someone got on base, the board would show 
a runner standing on the base. If it were an out, it would show that the 
person hit the ball, and then you could see that it was caught. If some- 
one got a hit or did something really good, the crowd on the street 
would cheer and clap. 

Then my father would pick me up on his way home from work. 

I remember when Babe Ruth was hitting and Lefty Grove was 
pitcher for the Yankees. Bill Dickie was the catcher for the Yankees. 
Lou Gehrig was at first base. The famous manager at the time was Joe 
McCarthy of the Yankees. Bob Feller was pitcher for the Cleveland 
Indians. 

£46£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




I bought baseball 
cards, which came 
inside bubble gum 
wrappers. I also played 
sandlot baseball. In 
those days, you didn't 
specialize — you played 
whatever sport was in 
season. During base- 
ball season, all the 
people in grammar 



During the 1930s, spectators stood across the street at 
200 North Front Street to watch the baseball board in 
front of the Murchison Building (at right). According to 
the Morning Star, September 28, 1927: "World Series 
games which start next Wed. in the city . . . will be 
played in Wilmington on the most approved magnetic 
board that science has yet evolved which will be erected 
in font of the Morning Star building. Work on the 
erection of the scaffold will start immediately. The 
board will be elevated above the height of the second 
floor of the building. " If a streetcar or automobile hap- 
pened along, recalls Fred Block, "you just had to wait." 
(Courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society) 



school who wanted to 

play would meet at Pembroke Jones Playground across from New 
Hanover High School. The grammar-school children would pick up 
sides. The baseball diamond was behind the tennis courts, next door to 
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. 

When I first started going over there, the park was kept very 
pretty. They had flowers all around and nice little paths. Black maids 
called "nurses" by their employers, were there with the little children 
they were looking after. The nurses would talk together and the chil- 



£47& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

dren were playing all over the place. When I was about ten or eleven, 
they used to have a softball game between the men teachers in high 
school and the students — in Pembroke Jones Park. It's interesting to 
remember that the teachers got a free beer whenever they hit a home 
run. 

From the time I was about ten until I was thirteen, I thought play- 
ing football would be wonderful. We got out of Isaac Bear School at 
2:15 in the afternoon, but the high school football players got out ear- 
lier and would dress in their uniforms and sort of jog down Thirteenth 
Street. It seemed like the most romantic thing, to see the uniformed 
players going to practice. Some days we would ride our bikes down to 
the fields and sit there and watch them for a while. 

I was on the eighth-grade football team at Isaac Bear, but I had to 
quit because my mother wanted me to go to Hebrew School. I could- 
n't do both. That was the year of my bar mitzvah, so I had to go to the 
synagogue to study. The temple didn't have a good program at that 
time. 

After that I got on the football team at New Hanover. As a fresh- 
man, I was on the third team. But my mother made me quit that, too, 
because I didn't get home from practice until after dinner. Dinnertime 
was very important in my house. We were all sitting at the table at six 
o'clock sharp. My father would sit down and eat. He wasn't interested 
in conversation at the table. He just ate — and he ate fast. Dinnertime 
was regimented and mandatory when I was growing up, but food was 
and is a very happy part of my life. 



£ 48& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 







Fred (back) and David Block, about 1938. The house in the background, 1407 
Chestnut Street, belonged to William A. McGowan. 



£49& 






Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Food Customs 

in the Block Household 



■ 



I VJLy mother loved to grocery shop. She was a good shopper, and she 
taught me how to pick out good produce and meats. I watched her 
cook and learned that too. Once, when I was fifteen, she went to Flori- 
da for ten days — I think she went with the Stadiems. It was my job 
while she was gone to plan the meals, shop, and cook for my father, 
David, and me. The maid was going to help me, but she got sick. It 
was during the war, and everybody had meat ration coupon books. I 
bought what I could, and I remember that we had lamb chops and 
steak. 

My father was really raised to be religious, but not my mother — 
they didn't have a rabbi half the time in Kinston. Among the Stadiems, 
Moses was the only really religious one. He went to all the services and 
always had the seder. 

We didn't keep exactly kosher in our household in Wilmington, 
but my parents tried harder when my grandfather came to live with us 
after he and his second wife, Lena Wolk, split up. Lena and my grand- 
father went to Riga after they were married, to see the family there. He 
enjoyed that trip, though he really wasn't much of a traveler. She loved 
going places. And now, looking back, I can see that there were many 
family pressures on her. After they separated, he didn't have anyone to 

£ 50 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

keep house for him, so he and my Uncle Joe came and lived with us. 

Aunt Esther and Uncle Moe Guld lived in Portsmouth, Virginia 
back then. Moe and his two brothers had a shoe store there, but when 
the Depression came along and there wasn't enough business for all 
three, Moe came to Wilmington to work for us as a salesman. 

So Grandpa Block came to live with us, and he was a very religious 
man and he kept kosher. We never observed it as well as he would have 
liked us to. But we did keep kosher meat and observed about ninety 
percent of food customs. That was before they had freezers for grocers 
to freeze meat and send it around the country. So at the time, the only 
kosher meat in Wilmington was at the City Market, where they would 
butcher the cows weekly. A man named Holland from Brunswick 
County brought kosher meat to the City Market. 

Kosher means "clean." But the City Market was the dirtiest thing 
I had ever seen in my life. It looked bad and smelled worse. There were 
flies and other terrible things on the meat. At the time, there were 
maybe ten different stalls for local butchered meat. They had one stall 
for kosher, and the meat there was cheaper than what the grocery stores 
sold because the market venders were local. I guess these were all old 
milk cows that were slaughtered for meat when they stopped giving 
milk — and they were tough. My God, that meat was tough. 

Somehow or another we survived the beef. It exercised our teeth a 
lot. My mother could season it up and cook it all day long. Even if it 
was tough, it tasted pretty good by the time my father got home for 
the meal that night. Sometimes Ma Sadie was lucky enough to buy 
liver. Since there's only one liver in each animal butchered, it general- 
ly went to the first customer to get there. But now that I know what 
the liver does, I'm not so sure that was a good thing. 

Kosher chickens were supposed to be killed by the rabbi. The rabbi 
had a special way he killed chickens. He had a knife, a very sharp knife. 
Jewish cooks pick chickens dry; they don't put any water on them. 
Then they salt them and you're not supposed to eat them for twenty- 

£ 51 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Wilmington artist Claude Howell depicted the City Market vegetable vendors in oil 
(above) and crabmeat pickers in charcoal (below; private collection). 




four hours. But Holmes, the butcher, learned to do this because there 
weren't any Jewish chicken killers in Wilmington. He learned to cut 
their throats like the rabbi did. 

Holmes had hundreds of chickens in his store on Dock Street, 



Si 52 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

between Front and Second. There were just two fresh chicken busi- 
nesses, Holmes and Von Oesen. But Holmes was the only one Jewish 
people dealt with. My mother didn't like the chickens at the A&P, 
which she called "cold storage chickens." At Holmes, she actually 
picked out the chickens she wanted him to kill for her. He would pick 
out a hen and she'd say, "That hen's too old. Get me a young one." 

We always bought eggs from somebody in the country because my 
mother wanted them to be fresh. Sometimes she would buy them from 
Holmes because he had eggs brought in from the country. 

We used to keep chickens in the backyard, too. At one time we had 
white leggings — they were the best laying hens. And then we had 
Rhode Island Reds, and a Dominique that was multicolored. My 
mother worked it out with the rabbi to kill the chickens we raised. 

We'd get a few eggs from the chickens. We'd grow the chickens and 
when they got big enough for fryers, we'd kill them and eat them. My 
mother would get Louise Green, the maid (who lived close by, at 1 07 
South 12th Street) to take two chickens over to the rabbi's house that 
was behind ours. Maybe there was a hundred yards between our back 
doors. She'd carry the chickens in her arms. Sometimes I didn't like the 
way she carried them — she would hold them by the feet and they 
would hang their heads down. But most of the time I wouldn't let her 
do that because I was afraid they suffered. 

We'd get over there and the rabbi would have that razor-sharp 
knife. After he said a prayer for the chicken, he would hold it and 
pluck out two or three feathers from the neck so he could see where he 
was cutting. And he would hold it firmly and cut — and blood would 
squirt at least six feet because he would hit the jugular every time. The 
blood came out with a sound like sshhhhh. The rabbi would hold the 
chicken until it quit bleeding, and then drop it on the ground. It 
would jump two or three times before it was officially dead. 

Eventually Louise learned to kill the chicken and drain it the same 
way, so my mother did not send any more of them to the rabbi. I think 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

Louise skipped the prayers. My mother always had the chicken killed 
on Friday morning, because Jews eat chicken on the weekend — on 
Sunday. 

Rabbi Minsky killed the cows that were sold as kosher beef at the 
City Market. He also killed chickens once a week for everybody else at 
the Holmes Poultry Company, then Holmes would dress them for the 
Jewish community. I remember Mr. Holmes being there all the time in 
the midst of his chickens — waiting for someone to choose one for their 
next meal. What a life he had. 

Kosher chicken is a treat. It really does taste better than regular 
chicken because of the bleeding. The rabbi would hang them up until 
every drop was gone. You'd never see brown- or black-looking bones. 
It just tastes better. In most major restaurants in New York, they use 
kosher chickens. 

We had fish on Shabbat, every Friday night. My mother lit can- 
dles. Ma Sadie bought the fish from a woman named Mrs. McCormick 
at the City Market. My mother loved her. And then later, she bought 
fish from Zora's on Castle Street. Usually, when we shopped in town, 
she bought flounder. But sometimes it was trout. 

We always had lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. My mother 
bought a lot of them at the City Market. That part of the market was 
relatively clean. The people who sold produce always hawked their 
wares as we walked through. They all knew my mother. She would 
examine every little piece before she bought anything. You could also 
buy little homemade cakes there. Some ladies made them at their 
homes and brought them down there every weekend. They were 
shaped sort of like cupcakes and were very good. 



£ 54& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Summers at Carolina Beach 

IVly mother saved five hundred dollars out of her household budget 
to build a two-bedroom summer cottage at Carolina Beach, a popular 
summer vacation spot a few miles south of Wilmington. The house 
didn't sit very high, just high enough to have a garage and a maid's 
room underneath. It was just past the lake, at the far south end of what 
was Carolina Beach in those days. There were no houses between our 
house and Wilmington Beach. There was a log cabin about a block 
away, in Wilmington Beach. That was the closest house to ours on the 
south side. 

I enjoyed watching the crew build the house. To level the lot, a 
man brought a mule with a scoop. He would take the scoop and fill it 
up with dirt or sand. Then when it was filled he would let the mule 
pull it to the part where he wanted to dump the sand. The scoop was 
approximately six feet long, three feet wide, and about a foot deep. The 
part that scooped was flat and he would dump it, pull it back to the 
place he started, and get another scoop. 

I remember my mother wanted a screened porch — and she had 
her screened porch all the way around the front, back, and one side of 
the house. She wanted it wide enough for people to sit there comfort- 
ably and not have to sit sideways, so it was a good, wide porch. We ate 
every meal on the back porch. That was where our dining room was, 
and we had it wide enough so that we had plenty of room to eat out 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Nathan and Sadie Block at the "Please Don't Rain House" on Carolina Beach, 
about 1934 

there. The prevailing wind didn't blow that way, so usually we could 
even eat there in the rain. 

We had a closed-in chicken coop under the house. Ma Sadie 
would buy fryers and hens from Holmes Poultry and keep them there. 
And whichever one she wanted, she would send Louise to kill them. 



£ 56& 






A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

One day Louise cut the chicken's throat but didn't quite cut it deep 
enough, and the chicken jumped up and ran away. There was a big pile 
of woods right to the north, near the house, that you really couldn't get 
into because it was marshy. The chicken ran there and we couldn't get 
in to get her. 

The chicken survived and kept coming over to our house to eat 
food. We'd always open the door and hope to get her into the coop, but 
we never could catch her. The next year, that chicken was still there 
when we came down in the summer. And every time the chicken 
would lay an egg, she would cackle like hens do when they are ready 
to set. We didn't have a rooster, though, and the eggs must have rotted 
away. But the chicken stayed that whole summer. 

Later, my father's brother Charlie and his wife, Hannah, built a 
house on the ocean, and we were one house back. My father and Char- 
lie bought the two lots because there was supposed to be a lakeside lux- 
ury hotel in the works. The developers never built the hotel. They built 
the help quarters — the maids' and butlers' wing. It stood there for 
years, one long building on the western side of the lake, until it final- 
ly burned down. 

Hannah was a native of Portsmouth, Virginia, who was living in 
New York City when Charlie met her. I remember when I first saw 
Hannah, right after they were married. She was very striking. She had 
been a singer in New York who went by the stage name Nina Rhodes. 
At Carolina Beach she was a lifeguard, and she trained many young 
people there to be lifeguards. Hannah and Charlie's first child, my 
cousin Franklin, was born in 1936. Mary came a few years later. Han- 
nah was a different kind of Block at the time. The rest of the family 
either worked at the factory or worked in the home, but Hannah was 
interested in civic affairs. She still is today, in her nineties. 

My father might have found the real estate for the beach house, 
but my mother is still the reason we had the house. She was very good 
at saving money. She started a bank account and saved the five hun- 

£ 57 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



dred dollars in it by 
economizing on this 
and that, over a three 
or four year period. 
There was a carpen- 
ter from Kinston 
named Mr. Carroll 
Hahn, and both my 
parents knew him. I 
think in those days 
you had carpenters, 
but you had very few 
contractors. And he 
told my parents, "I 
can build you a 
house. If you've got 
$500, I can build 
you a house on that 
lot down there." 

She gave it some 
thought and talked 
to my father about it. 
And Mr. Hahn built 
the house. It was a house, but you could see through the boards in it. 
When the wind would blow, you had to get out of the way. We spent 
summers down there for about eight years. And when it rained, you 
had to put pots under the leaks in the roof. Ma Sadie called it the 
"Please Don't Rain House." 

After my grandfather's divorce — when he and Joe came to live 
with us on Chestnut Street — they also came along with us to the beach 
in the summer. My grandfather had one of the two bedrooms. My par- 
ents and David had the other bedroom. I slept on a daybed in the liv- 




Miriam Stadiem, Sadies sister and Fred s favorite aunt, 
about 1933 



£ 58& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




ing room. And my father closed in 
the end of a porch and made a bed- 
room for Joe, which was very small. 
After they left, the porch became my 
bedroom. 

Things were so different then. 
People didn't stay in motels or rent 
apartments like they do now. There 
was no question but that people who 
came to see us would stay with us. 
The Kinston Stadiems visited fre- 
quently, and we made room. Miriam 
Stadiem lived with us for a while. So 
did Ellis Fried, one of William 
Block's nephews from Baltimore. 

At other times, my mother's aunt 
and uncle would visit from Greens- 
boro. This was probably one of the 

strangest things that ever happened at our beach house. Aunt Sadie 
Stadiem and Uncle Abe Stadiem were my mother's father's brother and 
sister. They were very small, short people. Sadie was a half a head taller 
than Abe, but still tiny. Neither of them ever got married, and they 
lived together their whole lives. They had their own ways and were sort 
of peculiar, but were good people. 

My father and mother saw them occasionally when they went to 
Greensboro. So one day, we were sitting on the back porch at Caroli- 
na Beach, facing the road. We were right on the highway. And a Trail- 
ways bus pulled up. We were sitting there watching and all of a sudden 
these two short people, both of them with hats on, got off the bus. 
They had these funny looking cardboard suitcases, and they looked 
like they had just gotten off a boat. And the bus pulled away and we 
looked again: it was Aunt Sadie and Uncle Abe! They had come to visit 



Fred Block at Carolina Beach, where 

the fishing was easy, 

about 1937 



£ 59£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

but they hadn't told anybody. They just hopped up and came down to 
Carolina Beach. My mother was happier about it than my father was. 

Aunt Sadie was a cleanliness freak. She and Uncle Abe came into 
the house, and she hadn't been there five minutes when she grabbed a 
broom and started sweeping out the beach cottage. And at the beach, 
you can always get sand off the floors. She just had the best time 
sweeping up that sand and throwing it out the door. 

They stayed about a week and a small house suddenly felt like a 
very small house. 

At Carolina Beach, there were vegetable, fish, and ice vendors that 
came around every morning. In those days, there were three compet- 
ing ice companies: Rose Ice Company, Independent Ice Company, and 
Plate Ice Company. They used to come down the highway calling "Ice 
Man! Ice Man!" 

Most days they would come along together, one after the other. 
And one was always trying to get ahead of the other. For some reason, 
I always preferred the Independent Ice Company. My mother liked 
Plate. When they'd come down the street, I'd try to get the Indepen- 
dent man to come there because I thought they gave us the biggest 
piece of ice. She thought the Plate man did. We bought ice from the 
iceman the whole time we lived there, with the possible exception of 
the last year when we got an electric refrigerator. The ice block went in 
the top of the icebox, where it gradually melted and drained out a tube 
through the floor to the outside. When you got a drink, you would 
take the ice pick and cut off a piece of ice and put it in your drink. It 
was pretty clever in that simple sort of way. 

The ice lasted from one day to the next, and the iceman came 
every morning to put a new piece in the icebox. The pricing of the ice 
was a very inexact science, and my mother knew that. She would look 
at them and say, "Oh, we got some ice left over from yesterday. We'll 
only need a fifteen-cent piece today." 

Sometimes she would say, "Oh, today we need a twenty-five-cent 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




The fishermen of Seabreeze, a community just north of Carolina Beach, brought their 
catches to a waiting clientele and an eager audience. The tanned little boy just to the 
left of the propeller (sitting on the dark green boat) is Fred Block. Others include Ben 
Willis (dark trunks, on left) and Agnes Peschau (in white, between the two fishermen). 
(Photo probably made by John Hemmer; courtesy New Hanover County Public 
Library) 

piece." It would be her decision, and if they didn't bring her what she 
thought was the right size piece, she'd say, "Now you know that's not a 
twenty-five-cent piece! Now you go out and you bring me more ice in 
here." The prices ranged from a dime to a quarter, but she was really 
tough on those ice people. 

And then we had the vegetable vendors who also came every 
morning. One man, "Watermelon Joe" Howard, would sing, "I got 
'em, I got 'em. I got fresh beans, I got fresh peas, I got everything." 

And some days, when he'd been gigging the night before, he'd say, 
"I got fresh fish." The flounder he caught and sold was some of the best 
fish I've ever tasted. Somehow or another he kept it very cold. Later on 
they had vendors that just sold fish, but it was never as good as the fish 
Mr. Howard sold. 

One of the things that I remember most was Mr. Freeman's fish- 
ing boats that came from Seabreeze. Mr. Freeman and all the people 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

who worked for him were black. They had lived there at Seabreeze, a 
beach community for African Americans, for a long time. Mr. Free- 
man's men were hard workers, and consistent. There were three fishing 
boats, all painted forest green at that time. Anywhere from one to three 
boats went out every day. Each was manned by two to three men. They 
docked behind Fergus Seafood Market, a block south of the Pavilion 
on Carolina Beach. 

There was only one outboard motor between the three boats, and 
most mornings the boat with the outboard motor would pull the other 
two boats along with it. They would go to a special spot off Fort Fish- 
er and fish from daybreak until early afternoon, and then they would 
go back to their spot behind Fergus Fish Market to sell their catch. As 
a young boy, I would go with my mother several days a week to buy 
very fresh fish. We would watch the ocean from our porch and wait to 
see when the boats would return. They sailed back because the pre- 
vailing wind was from the south. The billowing sails were visible for 
miles. 

Part of the excitement of the day was watching them beach the 
boats. They had to come through the breaking surf, a difficult task. 
People from the beach would stand around and help the fishermen pull 
the boats up onto the shore. Two men would take an oar and put it 
through a rope attached to the bow of the boat and they would lift up 
the bow and pull, and all the other people would push the boat onto 
shore. It was a child's delight to help beach the boats. 

Then everyone would start buying fish from the boats. The great- 
est majority of the fish were black bass. But there were also redmouths, 
pigfish, flounder, croakers, trout, and spots. But flounder was the prize. 
That was the favorite, and the customers tried to grab them first. 

All the fish were put in bunches priced at twenty-five cents a 
bunch and tied together, anywhere from two to four fishes, with sea 
oats. People would gather around the boats and pick out the bunches 



£62£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

they wanted and give them back to the fishermen to be cleaned and fil- 
leted and washed. The fishermen didn't even charge extra for that. I 
never remember them coming in without plenty of fish to sell. It's 
amazing but one quarter bought our family of four plenty of fish for 
dinner — and they were such good fish! 

We'd go up there at least twice a week. My mother would say, "I 
want that one! I want that one!" She fought for the ones she wanted. 
She was a feisty woman. She was tough. I was with her and she would 
show me a good one and say, "Try to get that one over there." And I'd 
try to get that one. 

We'd take the fish home, and we'd cook them when my father 
came home. We lived at Carolina Beach in the summer from the time 
I was in the first grade until the eighth grade. We moved there and 
back according to the school calendar. 

At Carolina Beach we lived on a dead-end street, a gravel street 
that never was paved. Some young men and women would use it as a 
lovers' lane. They would park out there and my mother would take it 
on herself to go out and yell to them. "This is not the place to do that 
sort of thing," she would say. "I've got young children here that don't 
need to see that." That was the same kind of thing she did when my 
Aunt Miriam stayed with us on Chestnut Street and would stay out in 
Joe Friedman's car a minute too long. 

It's funny — I don't remember any of the people who came there to 
park getting stuck in the sand. But in the daytime, especially on week- 
ends, people would get their cars stuck. They were usually sightseers 
who would just drive out on the gravel and make a three-point turn to 
go back the other way and would get stuck when they got off into the 
soft sand. They would want to use our phone, but we didn't have one. 
My parents would go out there and help them get unstuck. My moth- 
er was good at that. It was an art. She would drive their car out of the 
sand. My father would direct the people to push and he would kind of 



£63£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

push or make like he was pushing. He didn't want to hurt his back. It 
was something to do on Saturday or Sunday afternoons — to get driv- 
ers unstuck. 

I used to bowl with my father at night on the boardwalk. I could 
beat him. In the afternoons, I would walk down to the boardwalk to 
buy a comic book or something and one day I made a deal with the 
man at the bowling alley. If I set up my own pins, I could bowl free in 
the day. I got lots of practice. It was an open-air alley. 

Usually I went barefooted the entire time we were living at Car- 
olina Beach. I took off my shoes when we first got to the cottage and 
I didn't put them back on until we left to move back home. Sometimes 
the sand and the boardwalk would burn the bottoms of my feet, but I 
didn't care. I was at the beach. 

The summer of 1940, my parents sold our house on Chestnut 
Street while we were living at Carolina Beach. That was the next to last 
summer we spent down there. They got a good price for the house on 
Chestnut. But it was a little premature, and we didn't have anywhere 
to live at first when we moved back to town. 



£64 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Moving 

lVly mother wanted to move to a farm we had at Scotts Hill — way 
up in the northern part of the county — and I didn't want to do that. 
Can you imagine being in the eighth grade and stuck out in the woods 
with no car — and riding into town every day? 

Anyway, when we had to move, my father got together with his 
brother Charlie and they worked out a deal so that we lived with Aunt 
Hannah and Uncle Charlie in the suburb of Forest Hills the year I was 
in the eighth grade. It worked out. My father said no two women 
could ever live in the same house. My mother said, "I'll prove that 
you're wrong" — and she did. 

We survived a year there, and it was very pleasant. Usually after 
dinner both couples would take a ride somewhere. Occasionally they 
all went together, but usually they drove separately. My parents liked 
to go to movies, or they visited my grandfather on Princess Street or 
sometimes their close friends Minnie and Harry Stein on North 15th. 
I was thirteen years old and the chief babysitter for my brother David 
and my cousin Franklin. David was six years old and Franklin was 
three. It was fine during the week, but I wanted to go out every week- 
end and just go out on the town. We worked out a deal where I would 
go out on Saturday nights, and sometimes when my parents came 
home from temple on Friday nights, I'd go out then too. 

I had my bar mitzvah while we lived there with Hannah and Char- 



£65 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

lie, so I studied a lot while I was babysitting. I also studied with Rabbi 
Harry Bronstein at his house on Chestnut Street between Fourth and 
Fifth Streets. But the actual service was a quiet affair, and the reception 
was low-key. Both took place in the ground floor room of the syna- 
gogue. Ma Sadie always said she would have given a bigger party if 
she'd had her own kitchen to cook in. 

We lived with Hannah and Charlie from the time school started in 
1 940 until late September 1 94 1 . I got to know Forest Hills and know 
the area. It was very different than living on Chestnut Street, because 
things were much further apart. I made friends with Graham Barefoot, 
Louis Hanson, Raymond Thomason, and Charlie Mitchell — and a lot 
of other people there. 

But there was a lot of sadness, too, because I had to give up some 
of my other friends. You couldn't have but so many friends if you 
couldn't get to see them. It was geographic. When you are young, your 
friends are where you live. 

So if you don't have a car, what are you going to do? We couldn't 
snap our fingers and get our mothers to take us. Mothers just didn't 
carry children around like they do today. You got where you were 
going by yourself. You rode your bicycle. I rode my bicycle from Han- 
nah's house to Isaac Bear School virtually every day of the eighth grade. 
It was a pretty good trip. Come rain or come shine, I made my way. I 
figured out how to get there in the rain and I figured how to get there 
in the shine. 

One friend of mine, Louis Hanson, lived on Colonial Drive. We 
would meet on the corner of Metts Avenue and Forest Hills Drive, 
where Walker Taylor lived. Louis and his father would drive up there. 
I don't know why his father did it and I don't know why we did it or 
why my mother let me do it (I don't think she knew) — but we'd hold 
on to Mr. Hanson's car and he would drive down Metts Avenue and 
we wouldn't have to pedal our bikes. And he'd take us all the way down 
to 17th and Dock, where he dropped us off. And then he'd go on down 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




From left: Fred, Sadie, David, and Nathan Block at 71 1 Forest Hills Drive, 
Wilmington, about 1941 

to his office, which was on the way. We'd ride the rest of the way to 
school. Towing bicycles like that was so dangerous. But you have no 
fear when you're in the eighth grade. We had a very nice time. 

My parents were building a new house at 711 Forest Hills Drive. 
Ma Sadie was very excited, but Pa was about a tenth as excited. The 
thing was, we had just been through a depression and money was tight. 
My father was still paying off the mortgage on the house on Chestnut 
Street when he sold it. He used the proceeds towards the new house. 

On a trip we took to the World's Fair in 1939, my parents first saw 
a house like they wanted to build. Unfortunately, my father cut some 
corners to save money. He reduced the size of the entire house and he 
cut the ceiling height down by a foot. And he changed the plans for 
the basement. At first he didn't even put an outside entrance to the 
basement — that was done later. And the heating system was not 
intended to be exposed. And then the garage was changed; it was sup- 
posed to be built under the first floor. The garage we had has now been 



£67 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

redone as part of the interior of the house, by the Easons, the way the 
original plans dictated. There have been only three owners of the 
house: my parents, the D. M. Lamdins, and now William and Marie 
Eason. 

Some things changed after we moved to Forest Hills. My parents 
had both been raised kosher, and as long as we lived on Chestnut Street 
I don't remember ever 
having bacon. But some- 
how when we moved to 
Forest Hills Drive, bacon 
started making its way to 
our table. I don't know 
how they worked that out. 
Also, we had fish on Shab- 
bat when I was young, 
and that changed over the 
years, too. 

One thing I enjoyed 
on Forest Hills Drive 

were the ducks and geese we raised in the back yard. The yard was big 
and we decided to block it off into sections, or strips, that led to the 
railroad tracks. The part nearest the house was reserved for shrubs and 
flowers. The middle part was a large greenhouse made of lath. And the 
section nearest the tracks was for the ducks and geese and chickens. We 
had a fence so that the birds wouldn't wander out onto the tracks. 

Every morning we would wake up to hear honk, honk, quack, 
quack. And I kept up the ducks and geese for years. I even bought an 
incubator. Everything I heard said you only raise about twenty-five 
percent of ducks and geese. So I had room for fifty eggs in the incuba- 
tor, and I filled it up. My first hatching, I got forty-seven ducks and 
geese. So we had a whole yard of them. They are not like chickens; 
chickens don't take up much room. But a big old goose will take a lot 




Fred Block at 711 Forest Hills Drive, 1941 



£68 2: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



FLOOR FINISHING 
CONCRETE WORK 
ROOFING 

DIAL PHONE 40O8 



J. E. NEWTON AND SON 

GENERAL CONTRACTORS AND BUILDERS 
BUILDERS OF FINE RESIDENCES 

AND 

COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS 

BRICK WORK 

STORE FRONTS 

REMODELING 



WILMINGTON. N. C. 

December 10, 1940. 



INSULATION 

STAIR WORK 

PAINTING 

P. O. BOX 1316 






Mr. Nathan Block, 
City. 

Dear Sir: 

We have very carefully examined the plans and spec__if ica_tions for 
your proposed residence to be built in Haw Forest Hills and we agree for the 
sub of Thirteen Thousand Eight Hundred Seventeen &ao/l0d Dollars ($15,317.00) 
according to the plans and a revised specification to be furnished. The 
principle changes in the original plans and specifications are as follows: 
(1)- No terrace is to be built on the rear of the house. 
(2)_ The basement laundry along with the outside stairway and 
iron handrail to same is omitted. The laundry tray is to be 
set in the garage ; a wood top is to be provided for the tub. 
(JO- All curtain walls and basement walls are to be of 8" brick masonry. 
(4)- All lumber is to be of #2 Com grade in all framing work. Framing 

etc to be same as that of F. E. Newton s house in Sunset pafck. 
(5)- All Footings are to be of concrete 8 n x20 B with three | n steel 

reinforcing rods in same. Basement walls and floor is to have no 
reinforcing steel. 
(9)- Roof is to be covered with Ruberoid Eternit Dutch-lap Asbestos 

Shingles. 
(7)- All gutters and downspouts are to be of 26Ga. fialv Iron. Valleys 
and flashings to be of 16 oz copper where same are so placed as 
to make future renewal dificult, 
(6)- Front porch columns are to be square local make. 
$9)- The following allowances have been made for the purchase of the 
items listed below: 

a)-Iron balcony on rear— $ 100.00 

b)-Hedecine cabs 40.00 

c)-Hardware 125.00 

d)- Kit. Linolium 50.00 

e) -Electrical Work completi — 235.00 f 

f )- Plumbing Complete 950.00 

g)- Heating Complete 900.00 

We trust that this bid may be found satisfactory and that we will be 
favored with this contract, we are 



yours very truly, 
J, £. Newton 




(This bid is for immediate 

* accept ance ^sothat protection 
"wff ^'' securea" on "TEe ' materials 
to be used on this"! pgy "" 



We carry workmens compensation and pu b lic liability insurance for the protection 

of our customers. 



A bill for construction on the Blocks' Forest Hills home, 1940 



£69 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

of room. The next time I got over forty ducks and geese again. We had 
enough of them forever. I had a funny habit of naming animals after 
our family and acquaintances. So we had a Sadie; a Nathan; an Oscar 
after Oscar Glick, a salesman; and a Bert after salesman Bert Frey. And 
we had a goose named after a nervous friend. We named only the 
geese — the ducks didn't have near the character a goose had. And a 
goose egg was about twice the size of a chicken egg. My mother loved 
to bake with goose eggs because she only had to use one egg for a 
recipe. 

At the same time, Jere Freeman was raising bantam chickens up 
the street. He gave me two of them. Bantams are interesting because 
they can fly like regular birds. They could take off from the house and 
fly to the chicken coop at the bottom of the hill. During my first 
years of living on Forest Hills Drive, Wrightsville Beach became a big 
thing to us. It was the place to go. I remember the Landis Cottage at 
Wrightsville Beach was a good place to hang out when I was at New 
Hanover High School. The elder Mrs. Landis had a granddaughter 
named Carrie May Wade. A lot of the people who stayed there were 
friends of Carrie May and the Wades, wherever they were from. They 
would bring girls down to the beach, and they had a place the girls 
stayed on the first floor called the Bull Pen. It was all innocent and 
above board, but the charming, pretty girls drew lots of attention. 

After we moved, my father worked out something with Merrick's 
Barber Shop to get our haircuts. It was so crowded down there during 
the war that we had to wait and wait. Alonzo Farnsworth was one of 
their barbers, and I think he was a relative of theirs. He started com- 
ing to our house on Sundays to cut hair. He cut my father's hair, and 
mine, and David's. He would bring long matches and burn the ends of 
our hair. He said all the old barbers had passed down word that it made 
hair thicker. We all loved Alonzo, who lived next to the corner at 
Eighth and Dawson Streets. 



£70£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Shirt Tales 

In 1941, the year I turned fourteen, the Block company was having 
trouble with the amalgamated CIO union. They wanted us to sign a 
contract with the union, and my father didn't want to do that. So 
around the Fourth of July that year, they went on strike. About half the 
pressers, who were all black, went out and maybe a quarter of the white 
workers went out. They set up a picket line out in front of the build- 
ing. They had people marching in the picket line with signs, and they 
would harass the employees as they came in to work and people who 
came in to deliver things. And we had plenty of people working. Peo- 
ple were looking for jobs then, and as soon as the ones on strike quit 
working, the company hired new employees. 

Block was the first company in Wilmington to give African-Amer- 
ican workers a living wage. In a time when equal treatment was far 
from the norm in the South, we hired blacks in the pressing depart- 
ment and paid them the same wages that white people made. We had 
some wonderful black workers, and I still see some of their children 
and grandchildren around town. 

At the time, my Uncle Joe was something of a misfit among the 
workers in the pressing room. Joe was a frustrated university professor 
or newspaper columnist. He could be generous, charming, and 
delightful — but he was not a shirt man. In those days, he was still 
thinking about going to New York and getting a job there. He worked 

£713: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

in the business, but just barely — not much. Later on, Joe went to law 
school in Wilmington. I'm not sure if he ever took the bar. 

One of Joe's jobs was that he was sort of in charge of the pressing 
department. The workers made up songs about everyone. So they sang, 
"What's wrong Joe, you got no pressers?" And they sang it in beautiful 
harmony. They had a song about my father and they even had one for 
me, something about "Freddie Boy," about the time I was in the eighth 
grade. 

It all seems humorous now, but it wasn't then. There's nothing real- 
ly humorous about a strike. The people suffered. We suffered. 

There were some surprises. A short-statured woman who sewed 
labels — a job we found for her — became one of the most avid strikers 
in the group, although we had created a special machine and chair for 
her so her feet could reach the pedals. After the strike, she came back 
to work. 

I'll never forget: the strike was settled the day before Pearl Harbor. 
Of course, it would have been settled anyway, on December 7, when 
America focused completely on the war. 

During the war, Block made shirts for the U.S. Army. Our pro- 
duction was about 90 percent army shirts at that time and only 1 per- 
cent civilian shirts. We sold the government about 1,800 dozen shirts 
a week. At some point, someone approached my father with an offer to 
buy his materials from the black market during the war and make a real 
financial killing. He refused. When Uncle Joe came home after the war 
he was furious with my father for not getting into the black market. 
My father never even considered it. He thought it was wrong in a lot 
of ways. It was illegal, although most shirt factories did it. My father 
was patriotic and grateful. 

Different army inspectors would come down and live in Wilming- 
ton and inspect the shirts. It was interesting to see. People always talk 
about the waste in the military, but I guarantee you the quartermasters 
didn't put up with a thing. They really made vendors toe the line. 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




Nathan Block beside the Addressograph machine in the South Third Street 
factory, about 1951 

My father and mother were both very social and gregarious in 
those times. They liked to entertain and would invite soldiers to our 
home who would visit at the temple or the sometimes the synagogue. 
They would invite the men to Sunday dinner — which in those days 
meant the midday meal. You had breakfast, dinner, and supper. Now 
it's breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Anyway, guests would come to dinner. My parents didn't get along 
great with all of them, but most of them they did, and they would 
invite them back. It was just like one big open house there, actually 
starting a good while before the war. Wilmington became full early on, 
when they army started Camp Davis, and there would be a lot of offi- 
cers in town. 



£73& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



For some reason, my father 
liked to take a ride every Sunday 
afternoon. We'd ride around and 
sometimes we'd stop by some- 
body's house and visit. But some- 
times we'd just ride around and 
then go back home. One particu- 
lar Sunday afternoon, when we 
came home, there were about ten 
people sitting around in our back 
yard, just sitting there having 
drinks. They asked us, "Do you 
know what happened?" 

"No," we said. 

And they said, "The Japanese 
just bombed Pearl Harbor." 

It was a very somber thing 

because nobody knew what was Both patriotic and hospitable, Sadie Block 

going to happen and nobody served Sunday dinner to countless soldiers 

knew how bad it really was. during World War II and into the early 

. 1950s when Fred brought home friends 

Everybody knew it was horrible, £ n ^ n- l ^ 

J J prom Lamp Pickett. 

but nobody knew right then what 

we would all learn later, that 90 percent of the American fleet had been 

destroyed. 

We sat there and talked. Then President Roosevelt gave a speech 
the following day and declared war on Japan and Germany. He told 
everyone that we would prevail. Japan had sent negotiators over to 
work for peace. Those men were in Washington in high-level talks 
while their country was bombing Pearl Harbor. It was indeed a "day 
that would live in infamy." 

But the Jewish people in America were the first to learn about the 
persecution overseas. I remember the Jews who moved to Wilmington 




£74£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

in the late 1930s. I was young then, maybe eleven years old. At Sun- 
day School at the temple, I had seen children of the refugees who had 
come to Van Eeden as farmers to get away from Hitler and the Holo- 
caust. One of the last ways out was a farming visa. 

The refugee farmers were very different from Americans in obvi- 
ous ways. One day I was standing on the boardwalk at Carolina Beach 




Edith Wolf at Van Eeden flanked by her 
children, Ann and Richard— Manfred and 
Ann I otb Collection: North Carolina 
Cellotwn, University of North Carolina 
Ubuttvat Chapel Hill 




Fred Loeb milking a cow. Dr. Johnson stood over him 

and instructed, "Con amove "—Manfred and Ann loeb 
Collection: North Carolina Collection, Unwerstiy of North 
Carolina library at Chapel Hill 

Above: Ann Wolf and Fred Loeb, about 
1941, as pictured in the book Van Eeden. 
Left: Fred and Ann Wolf Loeb of Silver 
Spring, Maryland, both saved from the 
Holocaust by the Van Eeden project. More 
than fifty years after the young Fred Block 
avoided the European refugees, he helped 
seek them out — a history project that result- 
ed in a warm friendship. (Photo by Susan 
Block) 



^75& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

and noticed four or five kids in funny-looking hats and clothes. I hate 
to admit it, but it embarrassed me to be associated with them, so I just 
sort of shrunk into the woodwork and let them do their thing. There 
was one girl, a very pretty girl named Ursula, and if she had been by 
herself, I would probably have gone over there and spoken to her. But 
she was with all the rest of them. 

That was over fifty years ago, and now I've gone all over the East 
Coast to find and talk with those same Van Eeden residents. We visit- 
ed Ursula in her New York apartment, and then took six of the refugees 
out to dinner after becoming reacquainted with them. I'm sure at least 
some of the group were those same awkward-looking children I shirked 
on the beach that day. I'm glad I've had the opportunity, so many years 
later, to get to know them. 

Another early rumbling of trouble in Europe reached us through a 
young photographer who came to Wilmington. He was also escaping 
Hitler, and, as far as I remember, he came from Germany. He came to 
our house on Chestnut Street to take family photos. His name escapes 
me now, but he was a big photographer in Germany. He spoke good 
English, but with an accent, and he had a sharp tongue. He was a very 
smart man. I know it took a long time to take those photos. I believe 
he had a Rolleiflex camera. He made sure he had everything exactly 
right. My mother watched every second. He went to the temple while 
he was here and lived near Greenfield Lake with Mr. and Mrs. Stanley 
Kahn. My father gave the photographer a job at the factory, but I think 
he moved on to a bigger city pretty quickly. Mr. and Mrs. Kahn asked 
him to leave after he asked them, in a commanding tone of voice, to 
"draw his bath" one night. 

At the time, I was not proud to be Jewish, because I was different. 
As a child in the 1930s and 1940s, it was very difficult to be Jewish in 
a town like Wilmington, North Carolina. There were times when I was 
the only Jewish person in my class. Out of forty people in a class at 
Isaac Bear School, I was the only Jew. Anytime someone is the other, 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




David (left) and Fred Block, photographed by Holocaust escapee Fred Wolff in 1939. 
Wolff lived with the Blocks briefly after fleeing Nazi Germany 

it is hard; I don't imagine it would be any easier being the only 
Methodist or Episcopalian in a Catholic community. I remember that 
every morning we had a little daily devotion in school, and it always 
embarrassed me a little bit because I felt left out. 

Then about 1937, someone painted a swastika on the Temple of 
Israel building. It was the only time I ever saw fear in my father. I over- 
heard him talking to my mother about it, and the things he said were 
enough to frighten me. Just imagine an unknown person painting a 



£77& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Novelist Robert Ruark (1915— 
1965) spent most of his youth in 
Wilmington. In his work he later 
made parenthetical references to the 
pretty girls who worked at Block 
Shirts and noted that the Blocks had 
moved to Forest Hills Drive. In 
Ruark's book Poor No More, he 
renamed his hometown Kensington 
and recorded his observations of its 
Jewish community:" It had never 
occurred to Craig that Jews were 
different from anybody else. In his 
own home town they were portion 
to the aristocracy of the city. That 
they observed the Sabbath on Sat- 
urday did not seem unusual, nor 
was the presence in some houses of 
the milchhkedikh and fleishkedikh 
eating utensils, one for flesh, the 
other for dairy products. He loved 
the rich Jewish food, the noodles 
and the matzoth and the rich 
desserts. The word Jew meant no 
more to him than the word people, 
or that somebody was blond or 
brunette. He had never heard the 
words Kike or Sheenie until he was 
exposed to the Northerners who 
came to Chapel Hill to take advan- 
tage of cheap tuition. " 



sign of hate and death on your 
church. Think how frightened 
you would be the next time you 
walked through those doors. 
You'd wonder who was watch- 
ing. 

Then about 1939, the news 
of Jews being deported seemed 
to come almost daily. It was hap- 
pening overseas, but who was to 
say at the time that it couldn't 
happen here? No one knew the 
future. 

But I survived the times of 
embarrassment and fear. I'm very 
different today, and I'm proud to 
be Jewish. I reached one turning 
point in 1967, during the Six- 
Day War. I reached another in 
the past few years when I began 
thinking about "chosenness" and 
God's love for the Jews. But at 
the same time, I see Christianity 
in a better light because I know a 
lot more about it. I've read about 
the Dead Sea Scrolls. I've read 
about the Jewishness of Jesus and 
his first followers. 

It's been a long learning 
process and I'm still in it. I keep 
learning. I don't know where I 
will be at the end of all this. 



£78£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Dark Clouds 

./\.bout the same time, my father purchased the farm in Scotts Hill for 
his relatives from Riga. The farm is located across the street from 
Poplar Grove Plantation on Highway 17. Pa bought a lot of acreage 
because the Blocks who were still in Riga were trying to get to Ameri- 
ca before Hitler began deporting Jews from Latvia. One group had 
already found refuge in Israel. I remember my Uncle Joe writing letters 
to Riga, back and forth. Pa put chickens, a mule, and a few pigs out 
there on the farm. He bought a tractor and some other equipment. 
The farm came with a barn to store it in. 

We let a farmer live in the house to start with. But the army start- 
ed building Camp Davis, the officers' training camp, about that time, 
and they had thousands of people working there and not enough hous- 
ing for them. Pa got the idea of fixing up the house. He put running 
water in it and rented out rooms to the soldiers. The farmer continued 
to stay there and rented a room himself. And he was going to ask them 
to leave when his family arrived. Joe kept writing letters and receiving 
letters. But then one day their letters just quit coming. 

Once Germany invaded Poland, we knew our relatives were gone. 
We knew there was no chance of them getting out. Joe kept in touch 
with the Blocks in Israel for years. When he finally realized they weren't 
coming, my father sold the farm. He should have held on to it. He was 
not a good businessman, outside of the factory. He said many times, 



£79& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




From left: Fred Block, Howard Guld, William Block, Nathan Block, and Joe 
Block, at the Scotts Hill farm, about 1939. (Courtesy of Cape Fear Museum) 



£80£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

"Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket." But that's not 
always right. 

I realized something of the gravity of the situation, but when I vis- 
ited the farm, I was just a boy having fun. I rode the tractor and I 
enjoyed giving orders to the mule. When someone was plowing, you 
would tell the mule "gee" for go right and "haw" for left. 

They had five hundred chickens out there. Ma Sadie went to the 
farm every other day to get eggs. She had many customers for the eggs. 
She sold wholesale to small stores like Carney's and sold retail to cus- 
tomers all over Forest Hills and Oleander. 

Ma Sadie would tackle anything. She was that kind of person. 
She'd give that man hell out there at the farm. "I know you stole some 
of these eggs" she'd accuse him. "We don't have nearly as many eggs 
today as we did yesterday. Now where are the rest of these eggs?" The 
farmer out there was really a sharecropper. We bought the feed and 
everything that cost money. He did all the work. He planted the seeds, 
harvested the crops, and took everything to market, then kept a share 
of the harvest for his compensation. 

I went out there a lot with Joe Block. There was only one restau- 
rant in that area, a small one in Hampstead. You could get homemade 
soups and sandwiches. We would eat there and Joe would talk most of 
the time. He read constantly, so he could talk about almost anything. 
I don't think he ever noticed that he talked so much. 

I don't remember my parents ever expressing their feelings about 
the Riga family. I'm sure they felt something, though. My father had a 
better sense than my mother about things like that. He would have 
seen the danger it could mean for everyone. 

During the war, we went to look at the foreign prisoners of war 
who were being held in a camp at the northeast corner of Shipyard 
Boulevard and Carolina Beach Road. They were so young — they 
didn't look like the supermen they were portrayed as in all the movies. 
The camp was all fenced in, with high wire all around and barbed wire 
around the top. But at least they were alive. 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Tales Told out of School 




igh school was a strange time for me because there were so many 
wartime things that were sad for everyone. But as a Jew, I felt even 
worse. Imagine if some members of a gentile family had just been 
exterminated because they were Christian. The Jewish religion is so 
old, it made me want to do something very modern in my life. I felt 
that way for years. 

In Wilmington in the 1910s and 1920s, as I gather, a lot of men 
went to the poolrooms downtown, like Baxter's Pool Hall. It was the 
thing to do to go there and eat a sandwich and see your friends and 
play pool. The way I understand it, the best people in town went there. 
Billy Baxter owned it. He was a skinny man who always dressed in a 
coat and tie and spats. He was a real man about town, the way he 
dressed. 

But for some reason billiards got to be a rough game in the 1930s 
and 1940s. When I went to Baxter's in the 1940s, Billy Baxter was still 
there — and he dressed the same way. We would go down there after 
school and that was sort of a hangout for us, Graham and Louis Han- 
son and a lot of other people. We'd shoot pool and watch the other 
people playing. Sometimes we'd skip school and go down and spend 
the day at Billy Baxter's. We'd stay off the streets, and nobody could 
find us there. 

There was another pool room near the Atlantic Coast Line Rail- 

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A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

road called Shepherd's, where we went sometimes. On several occa- 
sions the owner called the school and lied for us: "This is Dr. Shep- 
herd," he'd say. "So-and-so is here and he won't be able to get to school 
because he's sick." 

When I left high school, that was the last I saw of that. Baxter's 
might have been the place in the '20s. But it was on its last leg when I 
skipped school there. The last day of school before Christmas one year, 
it was snowing like crazy. I went to school and Graham didn't. He 
skipped that whole day. He had an old Model A Ford, and it broke 
down right in front of the school. The snow sort of snowed it in and 
it stayed there for two days. 

I used to ride to school with Pa because of gas rationing and we'd 
go pick up Charlie and then my grandfather on the same trip. Joe was 
already in the army in New Guinea. Pa and Charlie would let me off 
at the high school and then they'd go down Princess Street to get 
Grandpa. Then they would go by the post office, pick up the mail, and 
go to work. 

So one morning when I was a sophomore, I left school as soon as 
they dropped me off. Someone called from school and told my moth- 
er I wasn't there. She said, "I don't understand that because he left with 
his father and went to school." So when I got home I caught hell. 
When my father got home he acted like he was furious. But Ma Sadie 
just wouldn't stop. 

Well, I thought hard about it and talked to my father. "If you'll tell 
her I got sick on the way to school and you took me to the doctor, I 
can get out of this." 

Pa said, "I'm not going to lie for you." 

I said, "Daddy, if you never did anything like that when you were 
in school, then that's fine. But if you did, I think you ought to help 



me. 



He broke into a big smile and said he'd help — and he did. 

One Friday night during my sophomore year, New Hanover was 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

playing Wilson in football. The game was at Wilson, nearly two hours 
away. I really wanted to go to that game but Ma Sadie said I 
couldn't. I had a date with Betty Lou Morrow that night, and she and 
Anne Everett were very good friends. Somehow or another I ended up 
with both of them on a sort of one-man double date. So we were going 
to a movie and we were all talking, and one of the girls suggested, "Let's 
drive up to the game. We can get back in time." 

So I said, "That's a great idea. Let's go." 

So we started driving up the road towards Wilson. I was going 
pretty fast somewhere between Wilmington and Paul's Place, and this 
truck was in front of me that I didn't see and I ran into it. It knocked 
the front end of the car pretty hard. I pulled off the side of the road 
and got out to look, and it was really bad. 

I got back in the car. It started and it ran pretty well. We were 
creeping back to town slowly and I was thinking, "What am I going to 
tell my mother?" 

I had wrecked the car, and cars were hard to come by back then, 
during the war. So we came up with the story that we'd gone to the 
movies but couldn't park at the movies so we parked on Water Street, 
which at the time was a pretty rough riverfront area with wharves and 
dark warehouses. My plan was for us to really go to the movies and 
then come out and say, "Oh my god, somebody hit the car!" 

But on the way the car started smelling like it was burning up. 
When I hit the truck, it hit my radiator and all the water drained out. 
After we went in to see the movie, somebody smelled the car and called 
the fire department and maybe the police. They came over there and 
saw that it was all wrecked. Someone called my father and mother to 
tell them they found the car on Water Street "and it looked like foul 
play." And so when we came back from the movie, the car was gone. 

I called the police station and told them I had parked the car on 
Water Street and it was gone when I came back. And they said, "You 
stay right there and we'll send somebody over immediately." 

£ 84 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

So there I was with two girls who were scared to death. I was hop- 
ing somebody had stolen the car. 

The police arrived and asked me what happened, and I told them 
the story that we couldn't get parked anywhere but Water Street — and 
we went to the Carolina to see the movie. 

And that's when they told me the car looked like it was burning 
up, and they pulled it to Macmillan Buick on Second Street and called 
my parents. Raymond Holland's father ran the Buick place then. 
When his men figured out that it was my mother's car the police said 
to me, "Call your Mother. She's worried to death." 

And I called her and she was so happy to hear from me that she 
bought my story at first. I recall that my father came to get me and 
took the girls home. He was talking to me the whole time, saying, 

"You're sure you didn't wreck that car? Looks like it's been wrecked to 

■» 
me. 

I stuck to my story and I never did tell them exactly — but I figure 
they knew I was lying. They couldn't break my story, and the girls 
never let on. But I didn't drive my mother's car for a long time after 
that. 

I loved being out of school. My buddies and I would go down to 
the beach in the spring and swim, or go to the Pembroke Jones Lodge 
and walk around in the house. We'd sit on the nice sofas and tingle the 
real crystal. The abandoned lodge had one whole wing of bedrooms 
with bathrooms for each one. Everything made up, ready to go. Tons 
of beds made up. 

It was just the idea of not going to school that was the attraction. 
We were getting away with something. Then the lodge caretaker would 
come and chase us away. 

That's where it came in good for a teacher to like me and get me 
out of things. 

The other thing I did sometimes I never understood. At Shandy 
Hall there was a guy named Hig who lived in a trailer and was crip- 

£ 85 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

pled. The girls used to love to go there when they were skipping school. 
I went there maybe twice, and it gave me an eerie feeling. I just didn't 
like it down there. 

About three weeks before graduation, I skipped school one day 
with Louis Hanson. We went to the beach. The following day he got 
called to the school office and he said he was with me. I never forgave 
him for that. When they called me into the office I had an excuse from 
my mother, which I had written myself. I could write just like her. So 
they pulled out all my excuses for the last six weeks and made her come 
to school to get me back in. They pulled them all out and made her 
look at all of them and see which ones she had written. Later she 
admitted she couldn't tell the difference. But I think they figured out I 
skipped eight days, so they took three points per day off my grade in 
every class. So that meant if I made an A, I got a D. 

I made a D on everything that six weeks. 




Wilmington's New Hanover High School occupies the 1300 block of Market Street. In 
the 1940s, it was considered one of the strongest schools academically in the state. If 
you had a degree from NHHS, you were already doing college-level work. (Photo from 
Louis T. Moore collection, New Hanover County Public Library.) 



$. 86 £ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Different Days 



JL he summer between high school and college, I went to Saratoga 
Springs, in upstate New York, with Joe and my grandfather. I drove 
part of the way. We stayed overnight at a hotel in Baltimore. Joe took 
me to the graveyard to see where his mother was buried in Baltimore. 
Joe also took me to see someone in a drugstore there, one of the Her- 
mans, my grandmother's people. 

Then we went to Saratoga Springs. Joe and I spent about two days 
there and for some reason I can't recall, we left my grandfather there 
and went to New York for three or four days. Then we went back to 
Saratoga Springs. The hotel with the spa attached was a big frame 
building. I remember that I had the best lobster I had ever had in my 
whole life there. The chefs took it out of the shell — completely out of 
the shell. It was all attached, just out of the shell. 

That summer after high school, in 1944, I also had my first job at 
the factory. I worked that summer as an assistant in the mailroom and 
as city delivery boy. I also helped out in the shipping department and 
the cutting department. It gave me a pretty good idea of what was hap- 
pening in the whole factory. 

That summer I also drove a city dump truck. I made more work- 
ing for the city than I did working for my father. The city paid me 
sixty-nine cents an hour; my father paid me forty-four. 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

A man named Bryan Towles was involved in the paving business, 
and he gave me and my friends Jimmy Snow and Graham Barefoot 
jobs hauling asphalt to repair city streets. We had to be on the job at 
7:00 a.m., and we worked for nine hours. It was exhausting, and some 
nights we would just stay at the Barefoots' house. Dr. and Mrs. Bare- 
foot had four sons, Graham, Poley, Murray, and David. The boys' bed- 
room was a sleeping porch on the south side of their house on Forest 
Hills Drive. It had four windows, so each of the boys had his own win- 
dow. The Barefoots always seemed to get along well. There was always 
a lot of laughter in that house. And I guess there was a little more 
because we had the house to ourselves. Dr. and Mrs. Barefoot were 
spending time at the farm in the country. They left Monroe, their black 
employee, to cook for us. 

We'd get up early and Graham would drive us to work in his 
rumbly Model A Ford. On several occasions, the car would break down 
and Graham took his mother's car. I bet she was thrilled that a bunch 
of young men caked in asphalt were riding around in her car. My 
mother made me quit the job because she said she spent more money 
cleaning my clothes than I was making. 

When I began working at the factory I saw something new about 
my grandfather. I knew he was generous, but I did not know the extent 
of his financial contributions in the name of his religion. He really 
believed all the things that the Bible teaches. One of those is that you 
never turn away anybody who comes asking for food or money — and 
he never did. He never turned down anybody. 

There was a circuit of Orthodox Jews who traveled around seeking 
money for the cause (and I think they still do). They wore long beards 
and they spoke my grandfather's language. They hit him up for dona- 
tions, and he never refused. He was on the list and once you got on the 
list . . . well, we still had people coming around in 1980 who remem- 
bered the list, and my grandfather died in 1954. 



£ 88& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

William Block gave to many rabbinical colleges, especially New 
Israel in Baltimore. I hope he is remembered in a generous, nice way 
by all who knew him. He was a very good man. He was fluent in Eng- 
lish, German, and Yiddish. He probably spoke Russian, too, from 
Riga. He got the Yiddish newspaper every day. He read it to the day he 
died as far as I know. 

It's interesting — when I was a boy my parents spoke Yiddish flu- 
ently at home. (They especially used it when discussing something 
they didn't want me to understand.) Then somehow it all stopped. I 
think the events of the 1930s frightened them out of it. But now that 
I am older, the words come back to me, and they are rich ones like 
ganef, grossier ganef, gay shlafen, mensch, meshugeneh, putz, tsuris, zaftig. 
There is nothing in English to take their place. 

After my first summer of working at the factory, I spent at least 
some time every summer working there. I worked in the same jobs, 
and everybody was used to seeing me there. A lot of the employees 
remembered the day I was born. "Little Freddie Boy's growing up," 
they'd say. 

Mrs. Caine, who had been in the office since 1 927, gave me a four- 
cent raise. The office was on Greenfield Street at that time, before the 
extension on Third Street was built. We had a little cafeteria there that 
served good food — fifteen cents for a plate, plus a nickel for a drink. A 
woman named Bessie Beaver ran it. She was related to Alton Ketchum, 
who was the sewing room man, and his half-brother, Amos Carter, 
who was the cutting room manager. 

We had a woman named Glenda Newton in the 1 970s who was a 
pocket presser and if she wasn't there, things slowed down. She worked 
on a machine that was very expensive and did certain sewing maneu- 
vers no one else could do at the time. But somehow we failed to notice 
when she became pregnant. One Saturday she called me and said, 
"Freddie, I just had a baby today." 



£ 89& 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

She had just been at work the day before. 

"Please don't give my job to anybody else," she said. "I'll be back 
on Monday." 

She didn't make it to work on Monday. But she was pressing pock- 
ets again on Wednesday. 

Bessie Beaver's husband, Ralph Beaver, was the night watchman. 
Alton and Amos had both came to work there when they were about 
fifteen years old. And Jesse Marshall, the office manager, had started 
work when he was about fifteen. I learned something from all these dif- 
ferent people. But I especially learned from my father. The people he 
trusted in the community proved trustworthy to me. 

Walker Taylor was a good example. Walker Taylor Insurance 
always had our account. The first time I met Walker Taylor III was in 
my father's office when I was about eighteen, and Pa had called me in 
because he said he had somebody he wanted me to meet. It was Walk- 
er Taylor III and his father. Walker's father had brought him out to 
meet my father because Walker had just gone to work with him, just 
as I had gone to work with my father. Going back even farther, my 
grandfather and his grandfather, Colonel Taylor, had had a business 
bond in the 1920s and 1930s. 

That was the beginning of a long, pleasant business relationship. I 
always had the sense that Walker III was working as much for us as for 
his company. We trusted him completely. He had a drawer in our safe, 
and when he needed something, he would go over to his drawer and 
pull it out. He went all over that factory and kept up with every little 
detail. He was a real authority on safety over the years. 

In a somewhat different way, my grandfather's and father's rela- 
tionship with Ralph B. Williams, a successful shirt salesman for Block, 
paved the way for me to have a warm friendship with his son, Dr. 
Bertram Williams, Jr., and now, his grandson, Bert III. Those sorts of 
things only happen when people stay in the same business or town for 
a long long time. 

£90 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Duty! 

1 went to college early. First, my mother told a fib about my birthday 
and started me off in school a year early Then my teachers pushed me 
through high school so that I graduated a year early I was, by birth, 
supposed to be in the Class of 1946, but I graduated in 1944. After 
that I went to the Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina, for one year. 

I didn't want to go to the Citadel at all, but I attended for a year 
because of a deal I made with my father. I wanted to go to Chapel 
Hill — you could raise hell up there and have a good time. But I want- 
ed a car at that time worse than anything in the world, and my father 
said that if I agreed to go to the Citadel for one year, it would be all 
right if I used Uncle Joe's car. Joe was in New Guinea at the time, fight- 
ing in the army. We made the deal when I was still a senior in high 
school, so I got to use the car from that time until fall semester at the 
Citadel, where freshmen couldn't have cars on campus. 

The time to go to the Citadel came too quickly, and I found 
myself one sunny Sunday afternoon riding towards the train station 
with my mother and father. But on the way to the station, we passed 
some of my best friends in the back of a pickup truck — Graham Bare- 
foot, Louis Hanson, Wimp Saleeby, and some others. They all waved 
goodbye to me, and it almost brought tears to my eyes. 

When I got on the train, I recognized a friend, Millie Evans, who 
had lived on the next corner from me when we lived on Chestnut 
Street. I had a nice conversation with Millie and told her all my prob- 

£ 91 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




lems about going to the Citadel. 
But I've never seen her since. It 
happens that way. 

When I got to Charleston, 
an officer met me at the train 
station and deposited me at on 
the Citadel campus. It so hap- 
pened that Duncan Blue Black 
was the next person to check in. 
We roomed together the whole 
time I was at the Citadel and it 
was rather an odd situation 
because he was a junior scholas- 
tically but a freshman militarily. 
He had already been to college 
two years somewhere else. 

Blue was a big man, and 
people were scared to tempt 
him too much. When they 
came into our room to haze us, 
Blue would jump up and say, 
"What in the hell are y'all trying to do? I'm a junior!" And it usually 
worked. They would back off, and we got away with murder. 

I didn't like the Citadel from day one. And I liked it less and less 
as time went by. The main reason I didn't like it was the restrictions 
they put on your time. And you had to stand a certain way, eat a cer- 
tain way, walk a certain way. But I figured I could put up with anything 
for a year, and I did. And it was just about as bad as I thought it was 
going to be. 

In the mornings, you had to shave whether you needed it or not. 
You had to cut your hair once a week, whether you needed it or not. 
In the mornings, you had to disassemble your bed and put it in a rack 



Straight lines, squared-ojf corners, and 
strictly enforced curfews made life at the 
Citadel a pain for Fred. "But I went to 
sleep every night knowing he was where he 
ought to be, " said Sadie Block in 1999. 



£92& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

until after lunch. You could lie down on it from about 1:30 until about 
4:30, but then you had to put it back in the rack. It was the only time 
in my life I made a bed. And it had to be made properly. You had to 
square the corners, and it had to be made so tight a dime would 
bounce on it. 

We had inspection every Saturday morning. The inspectors would 
take their white gloves and check all the places that dust would gather: 
over doors, beside doors. And if you had any dust, or if your shirts 
weren't straight, or if your underwear wasn't folded properly with a 
piece of paper between the folds, you would get a demerit. And if you 
got over four demerits you would have to walk an hour for every 
demerit you got over the four. And walking was up and down, up and 
down, in a small space. You didn't walk too many of those before you 
decided you didn't like that. 

Your socks and shirts and underwear had to have that piece of 
paper in the center and none of the edges of the fabric could show. 
Blue and I didn't want to fold those things all the time and put a piece 
of paper into each piece of clothing. So we just set up some underwear 
in our drawers for inspection and left them there the whole year, while 
we stashed the clothes we really wore somewhere else. 

Even though the room was tiny, we got along very, very well the 
whole year. We kept in touch after that every now and then. The last 
time I saw Blue was when he came to Wilmington about 1995. Since 
then he has passed away. 

In high school, it was easy to go to the infirmary and get out of 
class for a day. They would send you home, but we didn't go home. So 
I thought I could get out of class at the Citadel. We had an old geezer, 
a retired army officer named Colonel Cathcart, in charge of sick bay. 
His wouldn't let you get away with anything. He got gassed or some- 
thing in service and spoke sort of funny. So when I went to sick bay I 
tried the same thing as in high school, but he looked me over careful- 
ly and said, "Duty!" in his own low gravelly voice. 

£ 93 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

I had a 102-degree temperature one day and I thought for sure I'd 
get out of class that day. But once again, just the word, "Duty!" I never 
tried him again unless I was really sick. 

The only time I actually got out of class was when I was playing 
touch football and I got completely knocked out. He kept me 
overnight in the infirmary and the next day he let me stay out of class. 
So looking back, I guess he was a pretty good doctor. 

There were some pleasant moments at the Citadel. One was when 
I had Betty Lou Morrow come down for a dance. It was a grand dance. 
They ought to do something to make you happy down there. They 
opened up barracks that were not in use for the girls. The dance was 
over at twelve o'clock, and of course, in keeping with everything else at 
the Citadel, we had to be in by one a.m. The mess hall fixed a very nice 
breakfast the next morning for us guys and our dates. Then I put Betty 
Lou on the bus at five that afternoon to go home. 

Beginning with the last hundred days of the school year, I used to 
keep a record of how many days, and how many hours, and how many 
minutes I had left at the Citadel. I filled up a whole page with calcula- 
tions, then I would fill up another page. I worked on it every day. Gas 
was tight then, and in the interest of speed, as soon as I got out I hitch- 
hiked home. 



£ 94& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



A Block in Blue heaven 

/liter my horrible year in Charleston, I came home and met up in 
Wilmington with several of my Citadel friends — Ted Carroll, Ted 
Crozier, and Bill Wells. The two Teds were from Washington, and Bill 
was from Elm City. 

We spent a very nice week together at Wrightsville Beach. They 
were staying at the Carolina Yacht Club, and I stayed out there with 
them a few nights. After that, my mother really had hopes that I would 
return to the Citadel because I "enjoyed my friends so much," she said. 
But there was no way I was going back — not for any amount of money 
or cars. 

Ted Carroll finally talked me into going to Chapel Hill, because 
that was where he was headed. So I started classes that summer. At that 
time, practically all the dormitories were taken up by the Navy ROTC. 
Ted and I started looking for a room, and the closest one we could find 
was on Cameron Avenue. Mrs. Delancey owned the house. There were 
four rooms upstairs and she rented all four of them out. 

And strange as it seems, two of the boarders were guys from Wilm- 
ington that I didn't know before, Jimmy Simpkins and Donald Math- 
ews. Donald's father had a candy company; I think it was the same one 
that used to be on Hanover Street, where the Block factory later 
moved. We became pretty good friends after that and went out to din- 
ner a number of times when I was there. Chapel Hill was very differ- 

£95£ 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Father and son Nathan (left) and Fred Block get ready to take in a college 
football game, about 1946. 

ent from the Citadel. We drank beer most every night and did a little 
bit of studying. The Sigma Nu house was next door to Mrs. Delancey's, 
and I ate my meals there. The Sigma Nus were a wild bunch. They used 
to take wooden chairs and ride down the steps on them. 



£ 96& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

A couple of friends from Wilmington drove up to visit me one 
night in a Model A Ford. We decided to go out to a nightclub that 
evening, the only one in Chapel Hill. It was out on the way to Greens- 
boro, past Carrboro. It was pretty empty when we got there, so we 
decided to go back to town to get dates. I rounded up several girls and 
we headed back to the club. 

On the way back, riding down the wrong side of the street, the 
driver of our car ran head-on into a motorcycle coming the other way. 
The poor guy turned a flip in the air and I really thought at first he was 
dead, the way he lay there. The police came and we all got out of the 
car. Of course, they started questioning all of us — what we were doing, 
where we were going. Being as how my friend was driving, they put 
him in jail. Then they started asking each one of us, separately, differ- 
ent questions. They asked me where the whisky was and I said, "In the 
car. 

The police looked in our car and didn't see any whisky. They came 
back to me and asked again, "Where is the whisky?" 

"It's in the car," I said. 

"Well, we didn't find it. Show us." 

So I went and got the whisky — from the police car, not ours. 
When they called me out of the car to ask me questions, I had it with 
me because I had helped pay for it and it was our whisky. So I was sit- 
ting there in the police car with the whisky! 

At the police station I was interrogated again. After several hours 
of going back and forth, I called my buddy's mother in Wilmington 
and told her what happened. Somehow she got a lawyer and got him 
out of jail, then came the next morning to take him home. It was a very 
scary night for me — and a truly sobering lesson. 

While in Chapel Hill, we all used to meet every afternoon at the 
bar right next to the theater, on the side of Franklin Street toward cam- 
pus. After we were pleasantly tight, we would go to dinner. We usual- 
ly ate at the Porthole, Ptomaine Tommy's, or the Rathskeller. One 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

night after drinking a little more than usual, I came home after hours 
and, as to get back in I climbed the fire escape that went straight to my 
room. But that night I slipped and fell all the way to the ground. 
Amazingly, I wasn't hurt at all. I was quite relaxed. 

Because of the war, there wasn't too much going on in Chapel Hill 
on the weekends. Most of the students were Navy ROTC, and they 
didn't get out much. So about half the time we came home to Wilm- 
ington. Arthur Bluethenthal had just gotten out of the army and he 
had a big Buick convertible, and I would ride home with him. 

After two semesters, I just wasn't doing too well with grades in 
Chapel Hill. So I quit and came back home to work, but I have never 
lost my love for Chapel Hill. 



£98& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Georgia Frolic 

louring the Christmas season of 1945, I ran into an acquaintance 
who was older than me named Truman McGill, and we started taking 
about what I was going to do now that I had left Chapel Hill. Truman 
went to the University of Georgia, he said, "and that's a better party 
school than Chapel Hill." 

About that time, I made a snap decision that I'd go to the Univer- 
sity of Georgia too. I packed my suitcase and got on the train that 
night to Hamlet, where I changed trains and went to Athens, Georgia. 
So there I was at six in the morning all by myself. I went to the hotel 
in Athens, but there were no rooms at that inn. I started talking to the 
room clerk, who was a student at the university. He said I could go 
sleep on the sofa if I wanted to, or I could go in the kitchen and make 
myself some breakfast. So I went in the kitchen and made bacon and 
eggs, and sat down in the kitchen to eat. I asked him how I could get 
into the university and he said to me, "You don't have any transcripts 
or anything?" 

And I said, "No, I just decided to go to the university." 

He said, "There's a Miss Montgomery in the admissions orifice. 
Ask for her and tell her you know me. She'll either throw you out or 
be nice to you." 

But she turned out to be very nice. I told her what courses I had 
had and she accepted them somehow or another. I guess she confirmed 



£99 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Fred Block's University of 
Georgia student ID photo 
and student athletics ticket, 
1946-47 



■"""»;■ w ".' i - ■..■■' ■ "■" i i i .Pi . .. » ii u mpni^— ...... i .m i iiiiiiiii ..... — p i ■ y 

ltB!lllM!!IIIUIIII«t!t«llllHHUIirilllllIlf'Iil(IUllllll!<ittHtf'(IIIIl!'»!llIIItllllitmi ttlHIIIIKtlllKKII) liimjll.- tfUUriMlilltl 



«r~" 



1 



I THE UNIVERSITY OF-CE'ORGIA 

DEPARTMENT OF ATHLETICS 

! STUDENT TICKET ! | 

| SEASON 1946-47 \ « 1 

| Not Transfe/able 

j If this ticket is present- d by any other person other than owner, 1 
*' it will be forft and taken up by the Gateman. 

I BOOK NO. 



8 '■ | 



ALFRED W. SCOTT 

Faculty Chairman of Athletics 
| Retain front cover for admission to other athletic events during 
I 1946-47 Season I 



£4i)iHitiitninititi»Hiimiittiiiimi'iiiHit(iiiiHiHiiiitiittHiii>.ittiiii>i«iMnimHnNutHiii 

12 13 



imnimHmnn.MfUMUHit!! 



4 



iHi(iiiiMHtm(uiiiiininii(mtnnM.»m»i 



them later on, but I never heard from her again. So there I was, 
enrolled as a student at the University of Georgia. 

There was sort of a lull between semesters. I had about three days 
before classes started. I decided to go back to Chapel Hill for a few 
days. I took the train to Raleigh, but I found out I didn't have enough 
money to get all the way there. So I got the train to Hamlet and instead 



£ ioo & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

of getting off at Hamlet like I was supposed to, I hid in the bathroom 
and stayed on the train to Raleigh. From there I hitchhiked to Chapel 
Hill. I went back to my old room, and my half hadn't been rented yet. 
I spent two nights with Ted Carroll before we went back to Athens. 

I had been in a joint room, a sort of school ward, with about twen- 
ty people. When I got back my bags had been moved to a nice dormi- 
tory named Clark-Howell. They set me up in a corner room, right next 
to the football stadium and across the street from the fairgrounds. 

After I was down in Athens for about a week, I wanted to see what 
Atlanta looked like. So I hitchhiked to Atlanta and when I got there, I 
found out I didn't have much money — maybe two dollars. I went to a 
store and tried to cash a check, only to find out that they didn't cash 
out-of-town checks, particularly for strangers. Next I went to a bank, 
thinking they would cash a check. No again. 

What was I going to do? I talked to a very nice lady at the bank 
and told her I just had to cash a check. So she thought a minute and 
said, "Do you know anybody in your bank in Wilmington?" 

I thought a minute and said, "I know the president and his secre- 
tary." The president was Goodlett Thornton at Wilmington Savings 
and Trust Company. The secretary, Mary Graham, had been my 
kindergarten teacher at St. James Church. So I called long distance, 
identified myself, and asked for Miss Graham, except by that time I 
think she was Mrs. Shigley. She came on the line and said, "Is that you, 
Freddie?" 

"Yes it is," I said. "But I need you to tell these people that it is real- 
ly me." 

So she asked me, "Do you remember coming to my house for 
lunch, and do you remember what we did after lunch? 

"Yes I do," I answered. "We played tennis." 

She was married to someone who was an official at the Dow 
Chemical Company. They had a little compound right there near the 
Dow plant. There were only about four or five houses where they lived, 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

but they had a private tennis court. 

So she said, "Well you've got to be Freddie, 'cause you are the only 
one who would know that." 

So I thanked her and she got on the phone with the clerk at the 
bank and said she could cash the check for any amount she wanted to. 
Then I had money in my pocket and was very happy when I returned 
to Athens. 

That next day on campus, I ran into Margaret Wenberg and Bar- 
bara Leeuwenburg from Wilmington. It gave me somebody that I 
knew in the school. I went down there not knowing if there would be 
anyone else from home. I used to have lunch with them maybe once 
or twice a week, usually at the Varsity. Athens had its own Varsity 
restaurant. It was much smaller than the one in Atlanta, but the food 
was the same. It was directly across the street from the center of cam- 
pus. I ate a lot back then, but I burned it up. 

I met Barbara's boyfriend, Norman Carnes, from Athens, and we 
became very close friends. He was the only person I really got close to 
down there that I considered a good friend. I spent the night at his par- 




Nathan Block in his office at Southland, 1952 



■Si 102 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

ents' home several times when I would go back to visit. He was killed 
in the Korean War only a few years afterward — and thinking about 
that makes me sad all over again. 

After a while in Georgia, I came home between quarters. I was sit- 
ting around the house one night and my father said, "You're not work- 
ing very hard at school. Why don't you quit school, go on the road, and 
make some money?" 

That was on a Wednesday. So Thursday morning I started out "on 
the road" as the new Block salesman for eastern North Carolina and all 
of Virginia. It had been Moe Guld's job, before he and Aunt Esther had 
moved to Wilmington. 

Before I left that morning, I asked my father, "What do I say about 
the shirts? What do I answer when they ask me about the thread count, 
or some other technical question?" 

So he said, "Well, just tell them you've got nice shirts." 



£ 103 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



' : " :: '- : : : s-:.„-.^-: : -' 



Four-wheel School 

1 went to work for my father in earnest in the fall of 1945. The big 
thing in those days was the Cantfade, a feature my father based on 
another company's shirt, the Nofade. At the time, having something 
that did not fade was a big deal. But he figured out how to keep colors 
from fading and called it Block's Cantfade Shirt. There is a lot of copy- 
ing that goes on in the shirt world. It's just part of the business, part of 
the competition. The thing about my father was that he could figure 
things out. 

When I went to work, I tried to help out a friend from Chapel 
Hill, Julian Highsmith, who was selling what amounted to an early 
version of Muzak. We installed it in the factory and started playing 
music in the lunchroom and during the ten-minute morning and 
afternoon breaks. I started out by playing it on the factory floor, but 
that just didn't work out. There was too much noise for people to hear 
it. All those sewing machines. In those days, though, I never minded 
noise. The deafening sound of sewing machines meant money in the 
bank. 

The first trip I ever took as a traveling salesman was by bus. I had 
a suitcase and a sample case — and I had to carry both of them every- 
where. It sort of weighed me down, but I made it all right. 

After that first two-week trip, I bought a car. It was a 1944 
Chevrolet two-door sedan. It cost $1,425. After that, I didn't have to 

£104£ 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




A window display featuring the Cantfade label. These mock displays served as a selling 
tools for stores across the country. 

tote two suitcases everywhere. 

I enjoyed the driving. I put fifty thousand miles on my car that 
first year. Every time I passed by the crabmeat place north of Rich- 
mond, Virginia, I'd stop and get a pound of backfin or lump crabmeat 
and eat it while I was driving. I'd listen to the radio and some of the 
programs. There were very few four-lane roads back then, and I was 
pretty good at passing cars on the two-lane roads. To keep on sched- 
ule, you had to pass a lot of cars. 

Soon after I started selling, Phil Shulman, Shirley Block's first hus- 
band, tried to help me. He said, "One of my best friends runs this 
store" — a big department store on Church Street in Norfolk. Phil 
called the boss ahead of time and basically asked him to go over the 
buyer's head and tell him to buy from me. 

So I told Phil, "Thank you!" And I went to call on them, and the 



£ 105 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



New Ytfi Sales OffUe - Empire Stale Building 




The BLOCK Leng Heine uf The Famtul BLOCK SHIRTS 

SOUTHLAND MANUFACTURING CO. 
WILMINGTON, N. C. 




buyer came out and I told 
him who I was. 

"I'm from Block Shirts," 
I said. I laid the shirts out. 
And I said, "And I really 
think they're nice shirts." 

And the buyer said, 
"Well, my boss thinks 
they're nice, too. So if he 
thinks they're nice and you 
think they are nice, then go 
over there and sell them to 
him." And I was really taken 
aback. This man was really a 
strong buyer, and he didn't 
take any guff from anybody. 
So he told the boss, "If 
you want to buy shirts from 
him, you buy them. But I'm 
not going to buy them. And 
if you want to fire me for 
that, that's alright — fire me." 

I learned that day that you never go over anybody's head if you can 
help it. So just in that short period of time, I learned a good lesson. I 
kept learning lessons the whole time I was traveling. 

I went on to Richmond after that. I still hadn't learned to pay 
enough attention to my wallet, and I ran out of money again. So I 
asked one of the customers if he'd cash a check for me. 

And he said, "No. I don't know you. You say you're Fred Block, 
from Block Shirts, but I've never met you before. I just don't cash 
checks for strangers." 

I went down to a bank and they wouldn't cash my check either. So 



Hurrying in See You Wifh a New Complete time 

WILL SEE YOU ABOUT 



Southland promotional card 



£ 106 3: 






A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

I'm sitting there with money in the bank, but nobody would cash my 
check. I called my father and asked him to wire me some money. And 
he did. He understood that people don't cash checks along the road. 

I learned another lesson that first month or two — or maybe there's 
no lesson, but just a cute story. I walked into a store and the buyer said, 
"Where's your hat?" 

"I don't wear hats," I said. "I just don't like hats and they don't feel 
good on my head." 

He said, "Well, I sell hats, and unless you wear a hat, I'm not going 
to buy shirts from you." 

I said, "Okay, thank you very much." And I walked out. 

Now, fast-forward about two years, and I saw the same man at a 
party in Richmond. And he came over to me and asked, "Where have 
you been? I've been looking for you for about two years, to buy shirts 
from you." 

I said, "Well, remember you told me you wouldn't buy shirts from 
me because I wouldn't wear a hat." 

"Oh, I was just kidding," he said. "I didn't really mean that. I 
didn't need shirts that day. I didn't mean not to come back. Please 
come back." And I went back, and he ended up being one of the best 
customers I ever had. 

One customer in particular made me think hard about people's 
pride in their choices. In a store in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, I 
saw a competitor's shirt that was much overpriced. So I told the man, 
"See that shirt there. It's way overpriced. My shirts are a lot better than 
that shirt and more reasonable." 

So the merchant proceeded to tell me that he did not want to hear 
that his shirts were overpriced and not fine. "I bought that shirt," he 
said. "And I thought it was a good shirt. So when you tell me it's over- 
priced, you are telling me that I don't know how to buy." 

I asked him, "What should I say? I believe what I said." 

He answered, "Just don't say anything about a buyer's current 

:£ i°7 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



choice." And he was 
right. 

I did learn a lot 
as a traveling sales- 
man. In my way 
of thinking, every- 
body should start 
out in life in sales, 
selling some sort 
of a commodity 
that people need: 
shirts, ladies' dress- 
es, underwear. Any- 
thing that people 
really need. 

After I became a 
traveling salesman, 
I spent some time 
with Graham Bare- 
foot at old Wake 
Forest. My friend 
Beverly Barge lived 
at the fraternity house across the hall from Graham, but he went home 
to Durham on the weekends, so I used his room then. My girlfriend at 
the time, Betty Walters, had to be in at eleven on Friday night, so after 
I dropped her off I would go back to the fraternity house and pick up 
Graham. Then we'd go to the Wake Forest Tearoom and sit down and 
drink beer and solve all the world's problems. 

When we couldn't hold any more beer we'd go to downtown Wake 
Forest to Shorties, the only thing open. It was a redneck all-night cafe. 
Farmers patronized it, and the jukebox didn't have anything but hill- 
billy music. We'd order breakfast, but we were the only college boys 




Fred Block, Betty Lou Morrow, Ann Everett, and John 
Burney, about 1945, with props in a Carolina Beach 
photo booth 



£ 108 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



there. They didn't like us very much. Our favorite song on the jukebox 
was "When They Baptized Sister Lucy Lee." We must have played it 
ten times every night we were there, and Graham would sing with it. 
They'd beg us to quit. 

John Burney was at Wake Forest Law School at the same time. I 
had known him in Wilmington, but not very well. He was Graham's 
cousin and he lived a few blocks from our house on Chestnut Street. 
At Wake, he was already married. John and his wife, Betty, were living 
in an apartment. He 
started selling shirts 
for me and he made 
a lot of money doing 
it. That was the time 
when we became 
good friends. Today I 
count Graham and 
John my best friends. 

About that time 
I got my first large 
boat. And by large, 
I mean something 
over twenty-five feet. 
I called the boat the 
Cantfade. When I 
bought the boat, my 
father said anybody 
that would get up at 
six in the morning to 
go fishing was crazy. 
So the first morning 
David and I were 
ready to go out fish- 




The Cantfade Christmas party, about 1948, was held in 

the Armory — now the Cape Fear Museum building. Jesse 

Marshall (back, at left) was a longtime comptroller at 

Block; his wife, Dorothy, was a groundbreaking staff 

member at UNCW. Joe Maultsby (with cigarette) was a 

fabric cutter. Jack Lowrimore (left foreground, next to 

Fred) was a friend of Fred's. 



-§L 109 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

ing, my father sort of sheepishly said, "I think I'll go with you." So we 
all went out about six in the morning and caught about four or five 
fish. We brought them home and ate those fresh fish, and my father 
was the one who was hooked. After that, he hardly ever missed a 
chance to get up early to fish. We kept that boat for a while. And then, 
after several years without a boat, David and I bought the Ma Sadie. 
Our mother never liked the name of the Cantfade, so I was sure to 
name the next one after her. 

While I was a traveling salesman, I was home for the weekend and 
Jimmy Shipp of Dan River Mills was in town selling cloth to my father 
and Joe. So I went down to the factory to help them pick out fabrics. 
As the morning wore on, we decided that we had done enough work 
and we wanted to see a new thing in town: the Azalea Festival. The 
parade route at that time was right down Front Street. It started at the 
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad offices and went south on Front Street. 

So we grabbed two bottles of liquor and rode down to the Wilm- 
ington Hotel. Our rooms faced Front Street and were on the third 
floor, so we had ringside seats. We proceeded to order some chasers and 
watch the parade. We had a blast. The only thing I remember about 
the parade was that the floats were pulled by tractors, and some of the 
tractors had flowers on them. The Wilmington Hotel had a very nice 
dining room, so we all ate lunch after the parade. 




The Cantfade in 
the Inland Waterway, 
about 1949. In the 
background, Faircloth's 
Restaurant sits next to 
the old Wrightsville 
Beach bridge. 



£ 110 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



More Duty 

So, after I traveled for maybe three years, the Korean War came up. I 
didn't have any desire to serve in the Korean War. I went down to the 
draft board and I said, "Well, what's going to happen? Are y'all draft- 
ing people?" 

And they said, "Oh yeah, we're drafting, but you don't have to 
worry. You're way down the list. You can decide what service you want 
to go into. Go ahead — you've got plenty of time." 

The next day, I got a letter in the mail. "You have been selected. 
Report at such and such a time ..." And I went down to the draft 
board and I was livid. I said, "I was just down here yesterday and you 
told me not to worry." 

And they said, "We got orders to draft so many people. I'm sorry, 
but you're one of the ones we had to draft." So I was drafted into the 
United States Army for twenty-one months. I finally got out of the 
Citadel — and then there I was in the army. 

It ended up being two years, minus three weeks. I reported for 
training at Camp Pickett, Virginia in September 1950. In 1951, the 
army sent me to Germany. It took ten days to sail over there and ten 
days back. The troop ship we went over on was the USS Gen. M. L. 
Hersey. On the way over, on the last day, we were in the river steaming 
into Brerherhaven and we saw a ship about the same size as ours com- 
ing towards us. 

-a in & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Above: Fred Block snapped this photo on November 4, 1952, from the deck of the 
Hcrseyjust before the Maipu sank. Below: Certificate from ^General Hersey, the 
vessel on which Block was sailing when it collided with the Maipu. 



^srvmi ^ % 



ttttt W I 



£=>' 



{mm %m 



*?l 



®a KU Wlpt &ljaii #t t Utyw Ifreurtttii, Clmtiitgii: 

iKttP tP |jr, that imposing implicit trust and confidenc e itt 

Jz J"' VmMiilQK U BLOCK "g 

1 do appoint Mm q member of tbe Royal dhro*r of Atlattttr BnyayrurB. 



,^f? 



A- 



Once a lo«»/y kirtdHiihfw, 



Fr«Mi© 



_ has (ft'iMonsilrrtfetl br<iocry, ahilitv 



and fortitude beyond mortal ccmprskemion by knotpingty and unllitufbr embarking 

at Hanpt»n Heads Per t e£ Babarkatiea oh tbe 

U. S. NAVAL SHIP General M l» Beg»ey _ hound across the 

briny deep for tbe port of Braffter h avenj Ge rmany md did 

complete said voyage to our ultimate satisfaction. 

Qwen under mr band and seat, at this, Hrabqaartrra Atlaultr Arra* 

rOcteber 



2C tngbom of tt?r Srinp Bf pp. tte 



if <ry o/ 



1951 



Bf fcapat Brrm 



k*f» CWaDnlM 



^^ 



>i& 



^J 



It was a foggy morning, just before breakfast, and you could hear 
the foghorns. Suddenly we struck the other ship: Bam! Luckily the 
other vessel was empty, except for the crew. It was a new Argentine 
cruise ship, the Maipu, and had just let off all its passengers. The crew 
were deadheading somewhere to pick up another load. Nobody got 



£ H2S: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



hurt, but it was scary. You 
could see the bow of our ship 
all busted in. I had a camera 
in my berth and took a photo 
of the ship on that foggy 
morning. Everybody on the 
Maipu got off in lifeboats. If 
they had hit us, I'm sure our 
ship would have sunk. After 
we saw that everyone got off 
safely, I went up to the mess 
hall and had breakfast. 

When I went into the 
army, my grandfather was 
still vibrant and active. He 
could speak German fluently, 
so while I was in Germany I 
got some of my girlfriends to 
write him letters. I was disap- 
pointed when he never answered any of them. I thought he would get 
a kick out of exchanging letters in German. 

When I came back, I found out why. He had lost his capacity to 
do things like that. He didn't know I had written him those letters. He 
didn't even know me. It was very sad. 

In Germany, we marched a lot. We worked up to a twenty-five- 
mile hike. We walked every Wednesday afternoon. I had a friend who 
always told me to keep him going straight because he was going to 
sleep. I tried it but never did do it. 

It started getting cold over there about my birthday, November 17. 
Real cold. It snowed about then too, and the snow stayed on the 
ground. It was about four feet deep until spring. And when it started 
melting, you couldn't go outside for about a week because you would 




Fred Block on leave, French Riviera, 1952 



■§L H3S: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Skeets Majeski (left) and "Bud, " both soldiers ftom Stamford, Connecticut, who served 
with Fred (center) at Camp Pickett in 1951, enjoyed lots of Southern hospitality when 
they visited the Blocks. 

sink up to your waist in mud. I made up my mind that if I had a 
choice, I'd never be cold again. 

I used to go out after the hikes. I'd go out at night and drink beer. 
I made up my mind the army wasn't going to break me, no matter 
what they would do. No one else in our company went out after the 
long hikes, ten miles or more. 

I had only one long leave during my time in Germany, and I went 
to France with Phillip Overbaeur. We went to Paris, the French Riv- 
iera, and the Italian Riviera, and then came back. We had a great time 
and I met some real characters. 



£ 114 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

I had been working for three years before I went into the army so 
I had some money when I was in Germany. I paid the taxi driver to be 
on call for me the whole time I was off duty. When I got through on 
Saturday afternoon, he was there waiting for me. Wherever I went, he 
would be outside waiting. 

I had two years of experiences in the army — lots of good, bad, and 
indifferent things happened. But I learned there, too. I learned a lot in 
the army, and I think anybody who's ever been in the military learns a 
lot. And when I came home I knew I had done my duty to God and 
my country. 

While I was in the army, a salesman named Irv Sims took over my 
territory. Then Howard Guld took over from him, and he was still 
working there when his father, Moe, died. Moe Guld had quit selling 
that territory when World War II started because shirt sales stopped. 
About halfway through the war, my father decided to open up anoth- 
er factory because we didn't have enough production to meet the 
demand for army shirts, and Benson, North Carolina, looked like a 
good location for it. 

So he put Moe up in Benson as the plant manager. Moe did a good 
job there. He was a good people manager and the people loved him. 
He had a good, smart woman behind him, too. My Aunt Esther had a 
quick business mind. I'm sure she gave him the right kind of feedback. 

There was a lady who owned a boarding house and served meals, 
and we ate there when we visited. It was good food — country food 
served boarding-house style. Her husband was an insurance salesman. 
She had one of these old-timey beds, high off the floor, with a canopy 
over the top of it. But she wouldn't sell that bed. I was there when an 
attorney tried to buy it, and she said she got lots of offers but she was- 
n't selling. 

When Moe Guld died, Howard took over the his father's job in 
Benson. 

I was finally released in September of 1952, and when I came 

£ H5 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

home my mother and father were obviously very happy to see me. And 
I told them I was going to take six months off. "Don't even talk about 
me going back to work right now," I said. "When I was in the army, I 
couldn't do what I wanted to do. Six months is not too much to ask. 
I've got enough money that I saved up before I went in the army. And 
I just want to see Dick Dunlea and Graham and Jere Freeman and all 
my old friends — then have some time to bum around the country and 
do what I want to do." 

"Oh, no problem. You can do that," they told me. 



£ H6S: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Back to Work 

J. he first day or two I was home I just lounged around the house. 
And then the next day my father said, "There's going to be a shirt show 
in Florida and we can go and help the salesmen. You'll have plenty of 
time to rest in the sun." 

That sounded pretty good. I had had a headache ever since I got 
out of the army, but when we got on the plane, for some unknown rea- 
son, my headache went away. When we got to Florida we sold lots of 
shirts and we had a good time. Then we came home and I said, "Okay, 
now I'm going to take some time off." 

And he said, "Okay." 

The next day Pa woke me up again. He got me up and conned me 
into going to work full-time, and I never got my little vacation. He 
told me, "A man I had working named John Wallace left two weeks ago 
to go to work for another company and I could really use you." 

I reminded him that I didn't want to go to work right then. I want- 
ed to travel around the country a little bit. 

So he said, "Well, just come in for a few days. You don't even have 
to come in as early as I do. I'll get up and go in early and you come in 
a little later. It's fine." I took it in good faith. 

The next day he went in early and I came in later. The next morn- 
ing, he got up and woke me up. Then my mother said, "Please, dar- 
ling. Just come in here and eat some breakfast, darling. If you'll come 

£ 117 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

eat breakfast right now, it will help me so much. Then I can get all the 
dishes off the table. You'll enjoy being with your father." 

So I got up and ate breakfast, and somehow or another he coerced 
me into going to work that early. 

That was in 1952. I worked from 1952 until 1986, and I hardly 
missed a day. And I usually worked a long day. 

But I learned a lot. In fact, whenever I asked my father for a raise, 
his standard reply was, "It's not important how much money you 
make, it's only important that you learn the business. If you learn the 
business, nobody can take that away from you." 

And you know, he was right. I still wanted more money and 
thought I needed more money. My father was not generous with 
salaries because he thought the money should stay in the company, 
with the family as stockholders. It was that same old theme of his: "Put 
all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket." 

But if you learn the business, whatever business, nobody can take 
that business away from you. You know that business. 

That first day, my father took me over to John Wallace's former 
desk, which was piled high. John, who took a job out of town but years 
later would return to work at Block, was sort of an assistant to my 
father. It was a big job. It was second command. My father showed me 
what needed to be done and it was easy for me because I had been 
around the factory so long that I had it caught up in three days. 

So my father hooked me good. I only had about a three- or four- 
day vacation. But it made me feel pretty good, for him to think that I 
could do John's job. And I had money coming in and I had plenty of 
money from when I was a salesman — and when you've got money and 
you're single and twenty-three years old, you're in good shape. So I was 
having a good time and I was learning the business. 

That was a time when we were doing gangbusters. Right after 
World War II, there was a recession, but by 1953, things were good. 
We were selling every shirt we could make. I was in charge of produc- 

£118 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




Simple and bare, Fred Block's new office was powered by 
human energy. 



tion. I kept pushing 
for more production 
and pushing and 
pushing. 

At first I had a desk 
in the corner of my 
father's office. I was 
very unhappy with 
my desk and sharing 
an office with him. 
So I built a little 
office, just as you 
came into the facto- 
ry. I moved the pay- 
roll from an office 
that was too crowd- 
ed, the main office on Third Street. I built a small office plus a sort of 
reception room where we put the time clocks, and I had my office 
there too. It was a small private office, with the two payroll girls. 

Moving the office took about a year. I was by myself down there. 
I was gradually taking over things as I learned how to do the different 
jobs. My father wasn't lazy by any means, but he was ready to step away 
from some of the work. 

The new offices made things flow better. People had the payroll 
office right there at the plant. I put it at the corner of the ell because I 
could use walls that were already there in the construction — I always 
had to justify costs to my father. 

After the first shirt show I went to in Florida, I went every year. 
My father never went again. Even though he was a great shirt man, he 
didn't like shows. But it did me a lot of good, because I could do things 
for the shirts that made them sell better. I would put different things 
in the collars to make the shirts look fresher, so that they wouldn't get 



£ H9S: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

busted down by handling. I would fold them better. I learned lots of 
little things that really helped the shirts. You don't know that unless 
you're on the selling end. 

For a lot of years, I was really learning. But I was always very ambi- 
tious to do things better — to open a new factory, or make a better 
shirt, or to take on as many jobs as I could. I learned things that 
worked, like telegrams. I remembered that one great thing about wed- 
dings and bar mitzvahs when I was a child was the reading of telegrams 
from well-wishers. So I thought they might be dramatic enough to get 
payments from slow customers. It worked. Telegrams embarrassed peo- 
ple into paying their bills. 

When I started in the business, all the stockholders had to per- 
sonally sign notes at the bank to borrow money. At the time, the 
stockholders were my grandfather, my father, Charlie, Joe, and Esther. 
After I was in the business for a few years and understood that we had 
a very strong company financially, I didn't see any reason to personal- 
ly sign notes. So after negotiating for six months or so, I persuaded the 
bank to do away with that practice. Then any of the officers could go 
down and sign for the corporation. In the old days, if there was a 
default they could have gone after one or all of those who signed the 
loan. 

Shep Salzman worked for my father. He was a good man and my 
father wouldn't promote him like he thought he should be promoted, 
so he went to South Carolina and opened a shirt factory called Wings 
that sold more shirts than Block at one time. They were a semi-adver- 
tised brand, and they did very well. My father never expressed regret, 
but he was wrong not to promote Shep. 

At first, Pa took care of buying the cloth in New York. Every now 
and then, he took salesman Abie Ruben with him. Abie was the one 
who couldn't say his v's. He called a vent a "went." That little flaw 
helped him sell many a shirt. He was charming — and always immacu- 
lately dressed. Abie was better known around town for being part 

£ 120 St 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

owner of the Plantation Club out on the Carolina Beach Road in the 
1940s and 1950s. He tried to make it a real New York restaurant, but 
not enough people in Wilmington were willing to pay the prices. 

But Abie was a full-time salesman, and he really knew what buy- 
ers were looking for. He was good to have along in New York so he 
could tell my father what shirts would be a success. Pa was very frugal 
and only bought exactly what he thought would sell. He did a good 
job of it, but it was stressful for him to run the factory in Wilmington 
and take all those buying trips to New York. Block was supplying shirts 
to 2,000 outlets across the country at the time. During World War II, 
his stress dropped to nothing, even though the factory made a million 
shirts. But he only had one customer to please: the U.S. Government. 
He was so relaxed he got fat. 

Then after the war, things were more complicated again, and fab- 
ric was hard to come by. Joe was fresh back from the service, and my 
father sent him to New York to buy. Joe could be very charming and 
could talk to people anywhere about almost anything. He managed to 
make friends with some of the key mill people in New York. He made 
deals and did all sorts of things to get the cloth. All fabric was at a pre- 
mium, but especially white. White shirts were like gold right after the 
war, and they still were when I first became a traveling salesman in 
1947. 

At first Joe did a good job of buying. But over time, that changed. 
He would go out with the fabric representatives and they would wine 
and dine him. Then he would buy lots of cloth and he would never 
sign an order form. One day a truck would back up to the factory in 
Wilmington and unload twenty cases of cloth, and I wouldn't know 
what it was or where it came from. One time he bought blue when he 
was supposed to buy green. I'd call New York and they'd say, "Oh, Joe 
bought that." 

And I'd say, "This is not in the line, and half of it we don't need 
and I already have cloth in the warehouse." 

£ 1213: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Joe Block and his date, Irene, New York City, 1954 

But Joe continued to go out with the people in New York and have 
two or three martinis — and he'd always buy. The only way I stopped 
that was I told the New York office I was not going to receive anything 
unless I had papers beforehand. After that, the cloth people had to 
contact me first and could not ship until I approved everything. And 
that's when Joe got mad with me. 

Joe was something — but he was not a shirt man. I don't know why 
my father let him get by with all that. He would just say, "They are my 
family." Though my father ran the factory, he made sure his brothers 
had equal ownership, dignity, and respect. 

My father was very indulgent with Joe. And Joe didn't venture far 



zB 122& 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

into circles where he wasn't indulged. He got to know two sisters once 
who were quite attractive. They had some connection to the Rosenberg 
jewelry people that Ma Sadie knew. The girls lived in New York, and 
he took both of them out occasionally. I think it was nothing but flir- 
tation, but one day one of the sisters showed up in Wilmington and 
knocked on his door. She said she wanted to marry Joe. Marry Joe? We 
disappeared out the back door and didn't come home until she went 
back to New York. That was the last we heard about that. No wife 
would have put up with Joe the way my father did. I must say my 
mother saw through Joe and saw a lot of the family's problems before 
my father did. 

When Hurricane Hazel arrived in October 1954, I went to work 
like any other morning. We had warning that there might be a bad 
hurricane coming, but I did not think it would hit us like it did. When 
I got to work, weather conditions changed quickly. Water started ris- 
ing from the Cape Fear River up the street towards Second Street. It 
was really scary. The only people remaining in the businesses down 
there were the executives. Everybody else was scared, so they went 
home. Finally we all decided we were better off going home. 

After the storm moved through and the wind died down, I got up 
with my father and David and we went down to Wrightsville Beach to 
see what was happening. When we got there, we found boats scattered 
across the highway, all the way down. We went to check on the Cant- 
fade at Wrightsville Marina. We had tripled-tied it before the hurri- 
cane. There was only a single line left in place. 

Jere Freeman was living at Wrightsville Beach at the time, and he 
couldn't get on the beach for two days. They didn't let anybody on 
because of the washed-out roads. The Carolina Yacht Club was really 
beat up. My friends who were members said they were going to build 
it back like it was. But other than that, there wasn't that much damage 
for the people I knew. The factory was fine, and fortunately there were 
no catastrophes involving the employees as far as we could tell. 

£ 123 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Southland 

In the 1960s I took on an increasing responsibility for the business. 
For decades, my father had the first parking spot at the factory. Char- 
lie had the second, and I had the third. In 1969, my father and Char- 
lie retired and I became CEO. I enjoyed pulling into that first parking 
spot. 

I don't know that I worked any harder after they left. I had actual- 
ly run the company for three years. My father was satisfied with the 
results. But I wasn't working to impress him. It came naturally. It never 
even occurred to me to slack off. I just put hard work — effective hard 
work — on a pedestal. I worked hard all day, sometimes returned to the 
office after supper, and woke up during the night thinking about prob- 
lems and solutions. 

About 1960, I solved one of the biggest sales dilemmas the com- 
pany had faced. Of the Block sales force, I was the one who finally sold 
shirts to Belks — one of the most important department store chains in 
the Southeast. I first noticed the problem back when I was a traveling 
salesman. I'd always call on several stores. I would sell some. The indi- 
vidual stores always liked our shirts, but the Belk corporate buying 
office didn't purchase them. As the years went by it was more and more 
annoying for me, and I wanted to do something about it. 

The Belk problem was a prime example of family business at its 
worst. At the time, Joe Block was salesman for Belks and Efird's, both 

£ 124 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 








Above: Southland factory 
workers line up for Fourth of 
July party, 1966. Below: 
Longtime presser Lucille 
Tyson (right), 1966. 
(Courtesy Lower Cape 
Fear Historical Society) 



■§L 125 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Block cutter Henry Croom, 1966 (Courtesy Lower Cape Fear Historical Society) 



■8. 126 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

of whose offices were in Charlotte. My father should have taken the 
account away from him years ago — but instead he indulged him as 
usual. Joe would sell only a few to each, more to Efird's than to Belks. 
After watching the situation for years, I decided that if Joe couldn't sell 
Belks, I would sell them myself. I went up there and they said, "Thank 
you but we've already bought for the season." 

So the next year, I went up when our line was ready. I took fifteen 
cases of shirts and took a young man to assist me. He kept bringing 
them in and out. I showed Walter Reid, the buyer, all I had. His boss 
was Ralph Klemmer, the men's merchandise manager for the buying 
service. They both told me how wonderful Joe was. "He's the nicest 
guy," they said. 

It was very odd. Ralph and Walter said Joe always thanked them 
for not buying. They never bought, but he continued to visit them and 
always said "Thank you." They always wondered why, but never said 
anything about it to his face. 

So when I got through with my Belks presentation, Walter said, 
"Thank you, but we've already bought." 

And I said, "Wait a minute. When do you buy?" 

And he said, "Didn't you know — we always buy two months ear- 
lier than this." 

So the next time, I went early and took fewer shirts. Walter bought 
some to try. 

Then the next time I went up for the new season, I said, "Walter, 
if you don't buy I'll never come back because I've brought you some 
very nice things that are just right for Belks and I made them up ahead 
of our usual schedule." 

He said, "Now don't take that attitude," and we struck up a very 
nice friendship that is still dear to me today. They had a little booklet 
that they put their shirts in, and Walter showed me how to put our 
shirts in there — and we got the shirts and samples to him. When their 
orders came in they had bought about 3,000 dozen, instead of 700 or 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

800 dozen. He said, "You mean you didn't back me up? How will we 
make up the overage?" 

I said, "Give me some leeway, I'll fill the order as best I can." We 
had some surpluses that were close, and I substituted them and every- 
thing worked out. 

So from then on, it was smooth sailing with Belks. They were very 
fair in everything they did. And Joe never forgave me. 

So one day, Walter asked us if we had any flannel shirts. I sent him 
some, and after that he sold 3,000 to 5,000 dozen a season. Some years 
you sold a lot of flannel, some less. Plaid shirts were about as stable as 
anything there was. And Oxford shirts — we always had those. So Belks 

became our biggest cus- 
tomer. It was by far the 
largest customer Block ever 
had. We used to make 
10,000 dozen shirts just 
for their Founders' Day 
Sale every year. 

After several years of 
working together, Walter 
and I figured out that the 
best thing for us to do was 
to meet in New York. 
There were about twenty 
companies there that sold 
cloth, and we would get all 
their line in the New York office over a weekend and go over them and 
see what Walter wanted to buy for the next season. We'd make up sam- 
ple shirts from all the materials, and he would pick out what he actu- 
ally wanted to buy. He would usually buy between 10,000 and 12,000 
dozen to start off the season. 

Mr. Klemmer said, "Yankees come down here and think we think 




Nathan (left) and Fred Block, about 1977 



£ 128 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




Modeling Block shirts, circa 1969, are (clockwise, from back left) Carlisle Jenkins, 
Henry Nunalee, Kevin Dineen, and Billy Block. 

slow because we talk slow, and they think they're smarter than we are, 
but they usually find out they're wrong." 

Belks was important to us, but there were always other things 
going on. 

One routine form of shirt sale went unannounced. We always sold 
a lot of shirts to funeral homes. They didn't care what size they bought. 



£ 129 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

If the shirt didn't fit, they would cut it down the back. 

And there were all the fashion changes. Most people don't realize 
it, but every year there are subtle changes made, even in ordinary shirts. 
The blue shirt from last year is usually a shade different from the shirt 

this year, as are all 
other colors. But blue 
is always the most 
popular color, year in 
and year out. The col- 
lars on shirts change. 
One year they are sort 
of short, next year 
they are a half an inch 
longer, and the next 
they might be a little 
bit longer than that. 
Then they'll go back 
to a short collar. 

The same is true 
about the spread of 
a collar. Some years 
they are straight up 
and down, hardly 
room for a tie. And 
then they will gradual- 
ly spread out so that 
the tie has plenty of room (which to me looks much better). 

Then designers will put little sotskies on the shirt. Little messy 
things. Like the back loop, popular in the mid-1960s. It has no pur- 
pose except looks. And then customers will get a craze for exactly 
matched pockets. One and two pockets. Or then they go to two bias 
pockets. 




Calmer times: Nathan and Fred Block at ease at 
Wrightsville Beach Marina, about 1971 



£ 130 St 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

The retailer remembers every pattern from the year before, and he 
will not buy last year's stuff unless you give him a big discount. Then 
there's the matter of a square tail or a long tail. Five buttons or six but- 
tons. Top button showing, or a loop up at the top where it doesn't 
show. 

All of a sudden about 1964, burgundy became the color for every- 
thing. We made burgundy shirts out of oxford broadcloth, or anything 
we could get in that color. For two years burgundy ruled the shirt 
world. And then when it went out of style, we had to close them all 
out for about half price. 

Designers tried bottle green hoping for another burgundy, but it 
never worked. Another craze about that time was bleeding Indian 
madras. Why, I'll never know, because even though it looked good, you 
couldn't wash it with anything else because the color bled. And the fab- 
ric stank, and it came in short lengths, twenty to sixty yards long. 
Nothing matched. It was handmade. 

Most cloth comes on rolls, anything from 100 to 200 yards, and it 
matches. But Indian madras was made in little workshops, not facto- 
ries. What we'd do is lay it out in the warehouse and let it air out for 
two or three days before we used it. Then everybody got smart and 
used domestic madras that didn't bleed — and it matched. 

Such are the trials and tribulations of the shirt manufacturer. 



£ 131 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Watching the Pennies 

Mitchell Allen started the Bank of North Carolina in Jacksonville, 
North Carolina, in 1952. Mitchell was very bright. He was a very good 
banker and knew how to do things. After he got it going pretty well, 
he opened a branch in Wallace, and then a branch in Wilmington. 

In 1972, Mitchell's cousin Jere Freeman asked me to serve on the 
board of the Wilmington branch. I enjoyed my work with the bank. 
The stock was going up, and it presented a good opportunity. At the 
same time, differences of opinion had developed among Block family 
stockholders. John Burney, my attorney, called in Russell Robinson, a 
Charlotte attorney who worked with companies seeking to merge with 
other companies. At the time, we at Block were looking for that very 
thing. So I worked extensively with Russell for three months, and we 
planned some of the details for a merger. 

A few months after the merger, Russell called one day and asked 
me if I'd like to go on the big board of the Bank of North Carolina. 
The bank's founder, Mitchell Allen, had died. As long as he was alive, 
the bank was going great guns, but after his death, everything was 
floundering. So Dick Spangler decided to come in and try to help. He 
had special feelings for the bank because his father, a major builder, 
had been one of the original incorporators. He brought on about half 
a dozen new directors. All of them except me were his old friends. He 
made his good friend Russell the new lawyer for the bank. 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




Members of the board, North Carolina National Bank. From left: Roddy Jones, James 
Worthington, Fred Block, Don Williamson, and Don Ahem. (Not pictured: C D. 
Spangler, Albert Rachide, Meredith Senter, and Sidney Popkin.) 

I got to know Dick for the first time when I rode with him and 
Russell to an organizational bank meeting in Jacksonville. I liked Dick 
a lot. He's a brilliant investor. I followed his stock picks more than once 
and was always happy that I did. 

We all set a date for another meeting about thirty days after that. 
The bank was in bad condition because of deficient management. We 
were so poor that we got sandwiches sent in for lunch instead of going 
out to eat. We cut out any compensation to the directors, and we 
didn't pay the directors' expenses. 

Dick Spangler really took over the bank and spent a lot of time 
working on what to do. After several false starts, he hired two men 
from New York to take charge of the day-to-day operations. That was 
the beginning of the recovery, and the bank went on to do great things 
after that. 

The bank fired everyone who was expendable. The biggest factor 
that kept it going was that Dick and Russell went to Washington, 



£ 133 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Cutting tables at the Block plant 
(Courtesy Lower Cape Fear 
Historical Society) 



where banks always borrow 
short-term money from the Fed- 
eral Reserve, and they negotiated 
a long-term loan that kept the 
bank from going bankrupt. 

As things got better, we 
started eating lunch out again. 
We'd meet in the morning, go 
out to lunch, and sometimes 
meet again. The high point was 
the merger with NCNB, now the 
Bank of America. It was fun 
bringing a viable business back 
from near bankruptcy. Russell 
liked the way I was running 
Block and thought I would be an 
asset to the board. Once I got 
there, I became the watcher of the 



pennies. 
You see, the shirt business is a business of pennies. If you watch the 
pennies, you make money. If you don't, you lose money. Anyone who 
has seen The Pajama Game on Broadway would understand more what 
I'm talking about. I saw it on Broadway several times. A workshop 
supervisor has to figure out how to meet union demands of a seven- 
and-a-half-cent raise per hour. It makes you think of every angle. You're 
always looking for better ways to do things. There's a lot of labor 
involved in making a shirt. And if you can find a better way that saves 
five cents a shirt, and you make a million shirts a year, that's a lot of 
money. 



£ 134 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Spreading Out 

l\s I said before, I was always pushing for increased production. We 
needed more shirts. We weren't producing enough in Wilmington to 
meet potential sales. I found out that they were making shirts in this 
little factory in Newport, North Carolina. One day I was up there and 
the man who owned the factory said he was interested in selling it and 
asked me if I would I be interested in buying it. 

The man who opened that factory had worked for a woman 
named Mrs. Jackson who had a factory in Morehead City and he 
decided to open a factory in Newport, about seven or eight miles away. 
Mrs. Jackson was sort of a legend. She was very smart, very tough. I 
felt like he must be pretty good if he worked for her. He got a man in 
Newport to build a building and rent it to him, and he was smart 
enough to get machinery on credit from Singer Sewing Machine 
Company. 

When he opened his little factory, they needed work. They made 
shirts for Campus, which kept a man down there all the time to check 
production. I found out they needed work, and I contracted with them 
to make shirts for us. And they were close enough so I could send my 
people up to have pretty good quality control. I kept a man or woman 
up there nearly all the time, to make sure our shirts were made well. 

When your firm contracts with a company to produce shirts, you 
buy them and you send a representative into the factory to make sure 

£ 135 3c 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

they produce them like you want them produced. And you pay them 
so much a dozen. And then you sell them for profit. And it's a good 
deal because it just adds to your bottom line and you don't have to put 
up any bricks and mortar. 

It worked for a while, and finally the man came to me one day and 
said, "I can't make shirts here anymore." 

I said, "Why?" 

And he said, "I don't have any money. I'm completely out of 
money and I'm going to have to close up." 

So I said, "Can we buy your place?" 

And he said, "Oh, that would be wonderful." So I talked to my 
father, stressing how much we needed more production. And he said, 
"Ah. We don't need another place. You can look at it if you want to, 
but I don't know what you want to buy a shirt factory for. We've got 
this factory. We've got one in Benson." Then he thought for a minute 
and said that if I could buy it and just take over the lease and machin- 
ery, it would be all right — to just go ahead and do it. 

My father had to go to New York, so he left me in charge of han- 
dling the deal. I told our attorney, Ed Friedberg of Raleigh, what my 
father had said and what I wanted to do. He agreed to meet me in 
Newport the next morning to see what we could work out. 

Up until this time, Ed had thought of me as a kid. He had worked 
with my father when I was just coming into the business. He never 
paid me that much attention. But when we met in Newport, he knew 
I wasn't a kid and that I knew what I was doing. 

We talked to the people and we worked out what I considered a 
super, sure deal that would cost us almost no money at all. I asked if I 
should call my father. Ed told me, "No, you've made a very good deal 
here." So that was it. 

Ed said, "Let's get an asset sale so they can't come back against us." 
If we hadn't done that, we'd have been in deep. The next day after we 
bought the business, the sheriff was right on our door and demanding 

£136 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




This trailer was one of three used to transport goods between Wilmington and 
Benson; the main factory usually sent cut shirts to Benson, which were sewn and 

returned to Wilmington as finished shirts. 

that we pay off the notes owed by the previous owners. 

I called Ed, who told me to show him the papers and let him know 
that I bought the assets and not the liabilities. So I did, and the sheriff 
said, "Sorry to have bothered you." Ed had protected us on all that sort 
of stuff. 

If you buy a corporation, you buy all their problems. We didn't 
buy the corporation — just the assets. Any time I bought after that, I 
was very careful not to buy a corporation. 

My father came back from New York and I said, "Guess what? We 



£ 137 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

got a factory in Newport." Ed was there, too, and he said, "Nathan, he 
made a good deal. Don't say anything. Just go along with it. I was there 
and I guided him and everything worked out fine." 

It did work out well. It was a super deal. And I was very proud of 
myself for engineering it. My father was the kind of person who was 
proud of me, but he never would say it. But I could tell he was proud 
of me doing that. 

We finally got the Newport factory where it was producing at a 
very profitable rate. I doubled the size of it. I built onto the factory. It 
ended up making a higher quality shirt than we made in Wilmington. 

One improvement that surprised me was something I learned in 
the Orient, where we employed a lot of transient workers. Normally, 
in Wilmington, I would never hire transient people. If a woman 
applied for a job and told me, "My husband is in the army — he's only 
going to be here six months," I wouldn't hire her, because it takes a 
long time to train people. It takes at least three months to teach some- 
one how to operate the sewing machine. So I had a long-standing rule 
that I wouldn't hire servicemen's wives. 

Bob George, my manager in Newport, got into a pinch one time 
and hired a transient worker, an Asian woman who mastered the job 
in two weeks. After that, I relaxed my rule. I found out in Newport 
that our Asian workers could learn in an average of three weeks. 
Whether it was due to a superior understanding of the work or a 
stronger determination to succeed, there was a notable difference. And 
that was a plus for that factory. 

We had about fifty Japanese women working in Newport, and 
they had a wonderful work ethic. They chose to eat their lunch togeth- 
er, as a group. They would bring their own food and chopsticks from 
homes and chat in Japanese. They were a great asset to us because they 
worked hard. They didn't talk. And I learned that you could hire tran- 
sient people if they were hard-working. 

The man who owned the building was Mose Howard, who had a 

£ 138 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



Top right: Mildred Rackley, manager 

of the Benson plant, at her desk in the 

Wilmington office, 1966. Below: Bob 

George, manager of the Newport 

factory, stands at the cutting tables, 

1966. (Courtesy Lower Cape Fear 

Historical Society) 



filling station in Newport, on 
the way from New Bern to 
Morehead. He kept two buf- 
faloes in his yard, and that 
enticed people to stop and buy 
gas. By the time I met him he 
had lots of money. 

So everything was going 
well in Newport, but we still 
seemed to need more produc- 
tion. I was still in charge of pro- 
duction. I had a man named 
Winston who made some shirts 
for us and I looked at a factory 
in Garland, near Harrell's Store, 
but it didn't work out. Some- 
body else bought it out from 
under me, which was just as 
well. 

We were looking for differ- 
ent sources, and one of our but- 
ton suppliers was down here. 
Alton Ketchum was the button 
buyer, but I had to approve the 
purchases. Alton contracted for 





£ 139 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

them and he was a good buyer. One day the button buyer came to me 
and said, "You know, I have a brother who lives in Rowland, where 
they've built a building that's sort of half finished and they're trying to 
get somebody to go in there as a manufacturer." 

As it turned out, the button man's brother was on the city or coun- 
ty planning board. Six or eight of the board members had gotten 
together and put up money and built half the building. They were try- 
ing to entice people to come there. It hadn't attracted a tenant in six 
months, so they were getting pretty desperate. So I looked at the build- 
ing and it looked good. I met with the people. They had a doctor there, 
and a druggist, and a Chevrolet dealer, and a farmer — the different 
people who were the mainstay of the town. And I met with them and 
told them everything looked pretty good and made them an offer. 

Of course I had to go home and get everything approved by my 
own "board of directors," but I thought they would approve it: the 
board of directors was my father. I came home and I was thrilled 
because I got everything I wanted. So I even got the state to pay for the 
first thirty days' training for the different employees. I had heard of a 
government program, but it wasn't easy to get. Somebody in Rowland 
who had political connections, probably a lawyer, sort of carried the 
ball. I had to fill out a lot of papers and make a lot of statements. 

They finished the building, and they owned a certain part of it and 
we owned a certain part. Everything worked out well. And I went 
down to South Carolina and located a woman named Mildred Rack- 
ley who used to work for my father and had opened the factory in Ben- 
son. Mildred really knew how to operate a factory. I persuaded her to 
come out of retirement and come to Rowland. 

We had plenty of labor in Rowland, but the one problem was we 
had three different labor pools. We had whites, we had Native Ameri- 
cans, and we had blacks. They didn't mix. It was like, back in the old 
days, when the theaters in Wilmington or any other place in the South 
had a black entrance and a white entrance, and each group went in dif- 

£ 140 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

ferent places and used different water fountains. So when we went to 
Rowland, this man came up to me and said, "You know, you've got a 
problem. You've got three groups here. You've got the Indians. They 
won't go in the same bathroom as the blacks. And you've got the blacks 
and the whites. So you're going to have to have six bathrooms: three 
for the men and three for the women. And we did — until segregation 
was made illegal and we joined them back into two in accordance with 
OSHA's directions. 

Rowland turned out to be a very good plant. The people were very 
efficient. We would send a truck up twice a week to Benson with parts 
of shirts. I used to take the station wagon full of collars and drive up 
and spend the night. The Native Americans were very loyal, good 
employees. And the blacks and whites were good, too, and mingled 
together. Later on, as we closed the different bathrooms, we had no 
problems. But it was a problem when we first went there. 

By then we had a plant in Rowland, one in Benson, and one in 
Newport. And it was my job to go around, about every other week, to 
check on them. I was the big Pa for the plants. They looked up to me 
for what they needed and to tell me what was happening. They were 
all good plants and made very good money for us over that period of 
time, coming up to the year when we merged with National Service 
Industries. 

In the early 1 970s, it got to the point at Block where I was in the 
business, my brother David was in the business, and my cousin 
Franklin, and my cousin Howard. My father, my uncles, my Aunt 
Esther — they all had a legal say-so. And it got to a place where the 
business was important to different people for different things. My 
father was very good to Charlie. Each of them started out with a third 
of the stock. Joe and Esther shared the other third, with Joe holding 
twice as much as Esther. But my father kept accumulating, and he 
owned the most. 

Of course, I wanted the business to grow. At the time, I was pres- 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

ident. I was the one running the whole show at the time. My idea was 
to grow the business and to make it bigger and better, to keep on 
going. But then there were some in the family who cared more about 
getting dividends. They were older and they wanted money. And I can 
understand that. Everybody understood the positions of the others. 

But it wasn't a harmonious place to work anymore. It's a miracle 
that the brothers got along so well, but when you mix up cousins and 
generations, it's tough. And we all got together and decided that the 
best thing would be to merge with another company so we could turn 
the stock into cash. Those who wanted to cash in, then, could do so. 
It took about a year to accomplish this. 

National Service Industries in Atlanta seemed perfect for our situ- 
ation. In August 1972, we merged with them, but it took two years for 
us to be able to sell our stock because we did not want to be tainted by 
the charge of an insider deal. That was all right because nobody cared 
about turning it into cash right away. 

The deal worked. National was a good boss, in the beginning. 
They sponsored the opening of Block factories in Agua Prieta, Mexi- 
co, and Douglas, Arizona. Then we opened a factory in the Domini- 
can Republic. We had contractors in Haiti. And National was very 
good at letting us branch out to do these kinds of things. And the com- 
pany grew and grew and grew. It was close to a $ 1 00 million sales com- 
pany, in 1985, when I stepped down. 

When National bought us, they checked us for about six months 
to make sure everything was all right. They had to verify all our deeds 
and accounts to make sure everything was good. They sent a man 
around to our customers to ask if we were a good company and 
whether they would continue to do business with us. 

In Mexico at that time, the government offered a special incentive 
plan: if you opened a plant in Mexico, you didn't have to pay taxes for 
five years. So that seemed like a very good deal to me. Wages were 
lower — sixty cents an hour there compared to about three dollars an 

£ 142 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




hour here, so I wanted to go 
out there and take a look at it 
and see what they really had to 
offer. I went to Nogales first 
because we had cousins there. 
I had met them because they 
had been to Wilmington to 
visit about three years earlier. 
My grandfather had been out 
there to see them, so he knew 
them, but I didn't. Harvey 
Bracker's mother was my 
grandfather's first cousin. Har- 
vey's father did very, very well 
there. He sent all his children 
to Mexico for their senior year 
in high school so they would 
really know how to speak 
Spanish and keep the business 
going well. The business was 
booming when I saw it, and it had been booming for years. 

After National bought Block, they did a survey of what we need- 
ed and they decided we needed a vice-president of manufacturing. We 
had a big disagreement within the family about who it would be, and 
I decided to start looking for someone outside the company to fill the 
job. I called the Kurt Salmond engineering company to see if they 
knew of anybody. They knew a man who had recently had a heart 
attack, but who had recovered. I called the company he worked for to 
get a recommendation. The man's boss, Ben Raskind, took the call. I 
told him I was looking for someone and he said, "Well, I'm looking for 
a job too." 

Ben was a big executive. I told him, "I don't know if I can pay what 



Ever the adoring mother, Sadie Block attends 
the opening of the North College Road factory 
in 1981 with Fred Block (left). In the back- 
ground is Block salesman Abie Ruben, who 
with Henry Ormily co-owned Wilmington's 
upscale Plantation Club. 



£ 143 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




EXPORT NL'DGE-Armin H. Meyer 

(L), U.S. Ambassador to Japan, talks 
with Frederick Block of Wilmington 
president of Block Industries, about 
American made apparel during a U.S. 
trade mission to 4apan. Nearby are an 
interpreter and Deputy Assistant Sec- 



Twenty-tour American businessmen 
traveled to Japan and Hong Kong to 
try to increase sales of American tex- 
tiles and apparel in that area. The 
mission was sponsored by the Ameri- 
can Apparel Manufacturers Association 
and the American Textile Manufactur- 



BUSINESS ENCORE 



,ocal businessman back from China 



*y Ppyf J*nrt*w«*r> 

*t £Wtr 

Yederiek f ... Bfurk, presid*st of Block Industries Divi- 
n o! National Service* Industries Inc. in WiJmSngio« ; 
timed FrJdsv &Ue( spending abowf W day* in the Pro- 
's ftvpuMfc of China, 
t* was claied. reporting mo*f of |Jm bwftMW he'd set 

to aecoaipiifch had been sccomfjlisbed. 

t had two purposes in mind." he s*fd. ™I wanted to 

r«sdy-mad* sMrts. And i wanted to set up & )&iat ven- 

< ormaniif*fiurin);^i:i"!* in Chin*." 
Stock said to** *>int venture might involve putting 
cftifiery in a QUotm plant or *;miiar sort of operation, 
jegoiiatkm* wen? competed for a shipment of shirts 
» sent in the tate fail- Wegoiiauona WSW started for a 

6> said fee was planning to return in May to discuss 

w ptarw lursm. i >i'M t»c; i.h*? Caaton Fair. 

>OJ*il Business in China la different frewn bwHOffl in 

■ other Oriental nation, Block indicated. 

! had hern to Hong Kong. Tokyo. Korea and Taiwan 
xy time* before." he said. 'This was the- fintt time to 
People's K*pa6HC«(0l$sa> > * 
its eamvefton to China » a rrieod m Wasfttagtea. D.C, 
wy»r who was one of the first Americans K> go over in 
2 Through ibis person, he obtained the n*ed«d tnvjta- 

iovtsft Red Chin*. 
You ca« only get in cm an isivJatttaC he explained. 

thout o sponsor, yiya can't get a visa. yo« can't 

siw m a bote!, travel or anything." 

tses or p*s**s Were only good for a particular cKy. Me 

■ from Tokyo to Peking in five hours. His business 
t a textile fw-r, took bun to Canton. 

iVe had to go to the poike- station to get an exit visa io 

9 Otnum." 

isirtes* is cwductHl primarily with u t/ade group, or 

tiration*. of which there are 15 in China. They deal in 

ous types of commodities. He had to start with the 

<a Nation*! Textile Corp. The headquarters foi t«rh 

tea* !5groi!05 is in PDktag. 

■jrhln each curpwratfon, there are groups of 

oomotts organizations which are fiercely competitive 

each other. The Cantos group was the one with 
•n Bioek did hosafiess. 

01 the people with whom 1 dealt *pofce English." he 
^Ttwy w»r« good negotiator*, and lfk«d it. 
"be quality of product* »« China was superior to any I 
intheFarKast 
oik **id negotiation* took longer than they wouid 

(n the United Stale*. Many of the CWnese husfjiera 
ie iik«?d to think about t!ie various otfera and ideas 
« negotiations. 

ifhai would have won about thr<* days here, look 
t HHhere."he»atd. 

feck indicated «e was impressed with the attitude of 
gptRM, 

hev havt j ttroef. good feeling for American*. It's a 
3T>hi Chang* from some of the other coontrtea whare 
tt«tidei*dfrferent." 

workweek is six days for the average Chinese fac- 
■HOEtar — rtgrtt lioont « day for 4$ hour* lit the 
, The takt-home pay of lite worker to about J36 a 

■im of fhem seem happy and we-ii content." tie said. 
rxjnalty think ihev'H b* * dominanl force in the 
tf«T Km." ^_^___^_^__ 




Frederick t. Block ol Wilmington, presldarttef 
Slock tnctusErkfs Division of National Servient: 
industrieg inc., displays a miniature Chinese 
dragon boat mad« of rica straw thai he bro-ygfB 
hack from the People's Republic o( Chlnai Stock 
was in Chine to order shit Is and set up a Joint ; 
venture textile plant 4n Red China. 




Above: Trade delegation 
departs for China, 1970s 
(Wilmington Star-News). 
Left: The Star-News reports 
Fred Blocks return from an 
overseas business trip, 
March 25, 1979. 



£ 144 Sc 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



you want to get." He 
thought for a minute and 
said, "I think we can 
work it out." 

He came down to 
Wilmington the very 
next day. I liked him 
a lot and hired him. He 
made a great v.p. of man- 
ufacturing. We worked 
together for years. 

In 1973, I went out 
West because I had been 
thinking about building 
another factory, but I also 
wanted to meet my 
cousins and see their 
business. Their store in 
Nogales, Arizona, was 
right across the border 
from Nogales, Mexico. 
And it was an interesting 
situation in Nogales, 

because Mexico had a very high system of tariffs, so the well-to-do peo- 
ple in Mexico came across the border to Nogales, among other cities, 
to buy most of their clothes and things. So in a little town like Nogales 
they had about twenty stores that catered to the Mexicans. If some- 
body got married, they'd come across the border and buy a few thou- 
sand dollars' worth of stuff for a trousseau. 

I looked around Nogales and it was fine. But then I went over to 
Douglas and they had, for some reason, a lower wage scale than 
Nogales and had more labor available. So it seemed the right thing to 




Trade mission attorney Martin Klingenberg and 

Fred Block at the Great Wall of China, 1979 

(photo by Paul Jennewein) 



£ 145 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

do. But I was out there with a man from National and one night in a 
bar, he and I sat down and wrote down the plusses and minuses of each 
city. The only plus for Nogales was that Harvey was there. 

The next day we went to see a lawyer in Douglas and got the 
wheels turning to open a factory in Douglas. And about six months 
later, after buying land for a factory in Douglas and land in a sister city 
that was bigger than Douglas — Agua Prieta — we had a temporary fac- 
tory in both cities. So we started operating in about June of 1974. We 
had to cut shirts in Douglas and send them over to Agua Prieta to be 
made, then send them back to Douglas to be pressed. And then we 
trucked them back to Wilmington to be integrated into our other 
shirts. It was a very profitable operation. 

We made jackets in Mexico, too — leather jackets. We made the 
lightweight jackets in the regular factories because they were similar in 
manufacture to shirts. The heavyweight jackets were made in Korea. 

The builder for the Douglas building was from Tucson. He was a 
sharp builder. He had done well and liked to pilot his own plane. He 
was getting ready to develop some property he owned in Baja Califor- 
nia, on the western Pacific coast of Mexico. He was going to develop 
there because land was cheap and building was cheap, and it would be 
a wonderful getaway for anyone who lived Arizona, California, or 
Nevada. He was trying to sell me a group of several lots as an invest- 
ment. I was supposed to meet him and fly down with him to Baja, 
because they had no plane service at that time. But before we sched- 
uled the visit he was killed in a plane crash. I felt very sad and scared. 



£ 146 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 



New Yawk 

V^yne place I always felt good and usually felt very comfortable was in 
New York City. My father opened the New York office soon after 
World War II. He started with one room in the Empire State Building, 
probably 1,500 square feet. Bernie Steinmetz was the shirt salesman for 
the New York office, and he continued to work there for many years. 
And we kept growing from there. By the time I left the company in 
1985, we occupied a whole floor, the 26th; before that, we had the 
44th floor. 

New York was primarily the sales and buying location for the com- 
pany. In fact, we had numerous companies that operated out of New 
York. I was in New York at least one week of every month from 1 975 
until 1985. Before that I was there at least a week every two or three 
months. I was there to check on things, but my primary job was to aid 
the salesmen in selling the product — and negotiate large contracts for 
cloth and finished shirts in the Far East. Also, when I was in New York, 
I set up meetings in the Orient, to finalize purchase of the shirts we 
bought to resell. It had to be done in New York because the people in 
the Orient worked through New York. Every day in that office, there 
were long telexes of communications with the Orient. 

David had been working in New York since about 1959. He went 
up there as Joe's assistant, but he worked his way up until he was the 
sales manager and piece goods buyer in that office. We worked well 



:£ 147 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

together, and there were always things we needed to catch up on. 

When I wasn't working, I just enjoyed hanging out in the city. My 
last apartment there was at 240 Central Park South, seventeenth floor. 
It overlooked the park — and I spent many hours sitting in the park, 

just people watch- 




£>ni/l£& cuitt <L>t>cyi£<UjU&ajt. 



Southland Manufacturing Co., Inc. 

WILMINGTON. N. C. 



NEW YORK OFFICE 
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING 

Nathan E. Block suite 3122 



ing. For some rea- 
son people often 
asked me directions 
in New York. Some 
asked me where 
they should eat — 
and occasionally 
people in the 
restaurants there would ask me what they should order. I guess they 
took me for a New Yorker — until I answered with a Southern accent. 
On Sundays I usually visited Chinatown. I had some favorite 
things I used to like to do in Chinatown. One was to go to a dim sum 
restaurant and eat more than usual. Another was to visit a place where 
the fish swam in the tanks and you could point to the one you want- 
ed for dinner that night. They would take your fish to the kitchen and 
cook it. Talk about fresh seafood — that was it. Chinatown in New York 
was so much like China itself, I had a hard time deciding which was 
which sometimes. 

Back in the city, I also had my favorite haunts. For lunch, I liked 
to go to the delis. The Carnegie was my favorite. For several months, 
there was a 9:00 p.m. nonstop flight to Wilmington. I had time to stop 
by the Carnegie on the way to the airport and get a pastrami on rye, 
with tomato pickles and cucumber pickles, for the trip home. The 
flight just took one hour. By the time we got to Wilmington, the plane 
smelled just like the Carnegie. I also brought sushi onto the plane 
many times. 

For dinner in New York, I liked Shunlee, Gabriel's, the Saloon, the 

£ 148 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

Palm, a little Italian spot called the Grotto, and a kosher restaurant, the 
Kasbah, I think. I loved them all — and numerous other ones that 
opened and closed. 

But it wasn't just the business or the food or the park. I just love 
New York. It's my second home. When Frank Sinatra came out with 
"New York, New York," it seemed almost like an anthem to me. I 
remember dancing to that song in 1997. 1 was giving the party, and the 
band director knew how much I loved the song. He strung out the 
music so that it went on and on. It was the last song of the evening. 
And I just kept dancing. 




Longtime Block employees Joe Maultsby (left; also see photo, page 109), and Alton 
Ketchum (right), with Nathan Block at the new factory, about 1981. 



£ 149 & 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 



Today 

1 loved my work at Block Industries but there was a lot of stress in the 
mid-1980s, and there were also a few misunderstandings. I resigned 
from the firm in 1985. 

Om January 1990, I had the chance to visit the house in Forest 
Hills where my family had lived for so long. Back when I was young 
I'd saved a few Indian head pennies, which I hid over the door facing 
in my bedroom but then forgot by the time my father put the house 
on the market. I remembered, all these years later, to check. But they 
were gone. 

Today, wherever I go in Wilmington I see a different place. My 
first neighborhood seemed contemporary way back when — and now 
it's in the Historic Overlay. That really makes you feel old. 

I ride by our old house on Chestnut Street and I wonder who lives 
there. I wonder if they would have any interest in knowing my father 
once kept liquor hidden under the steps. 

I've lost many of the good friends I had back then. Weddell Har- 
riss died years ago in New York, when he fell from an apartment win- 
dow. I don't think he ever got over the death of his little brother, 
Thomas. He was never the same after that — he became quiet and with- 
drawn. And Louis Hanson died, too. I think about them often. 

Time brings some surprises. I remember the Wrights' fine house at 
15th and Chestnut Streets: as I child, I would peek through the shrubs 

£ 150 & 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

to see their private garden. A few years ago, Eleanor Wright Beane 
became a friend I felt close to. After a span of nearly seventy years, I 
finally got to know her. 

When I see the house at 71 1 Forest Hills Drive, I don't have quite 
as much emotion. My life wasn't as contained there as it was on Chest- 
nut Street because I was older. I could get away more. I think about the 
day in 1969 when my father decided to sell the Forest Hills house 
because he was afraid my mother was working herself to death in the 
garden. I also think about my parents entertaining with their little par- 
ties in the basement. 

Most of my parents' close friends, like the Steins and Bill Zimmer, 
are gone now. But Roberta Zimmer and her children are thriving. I 
remember when the Zimmer family moved to Wilmington. They were 
just getting started, and Ma Sadie took them under her wing. She even 
helped nurse one of the children through an illness. They've done well, 
and the boys — Herbert, Jeffrey, and Allen — are now big businessmen. 
Some of the Zimmers along with Hyman Brody, the Stadiems' good 
friend, have been developing the Mayfaire Town Center in Wilming- 
ton, a planned community as big as some whole towns. And now there 
is a whole wing of the hospital named for the Zimmers. 

I think about my mother's devotion to me. She was a mother con- 
sumed with love for her children. I think about my father, and wish I 
had asked him many things. His early life in Baltimore, where he was 
segregated by religion, stayed with him. He grew up in a Jewish neigh- 
borhood. My upbringing was very different from his. 

But it is William Block, my grandfather, whom I would like to 
question most of all. "Tell me about your family in Riga. How did it 
feel to leave your mother and your homeland when you were so young? 
What were you thinking when your face shone in the synagogue?" 
Still, I think I know the answer to that. There was something going on 
there that cannot be put into words. 

The Temple of Israel seems much more beautiful now than it did 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 

when I was a boy. And I am glad that the synagogue contains a room 
dedicated to my grandfather. My father was on the building commit- 
tee of the synagogue, and he helped sway them to cut costs — among 
other influences I'm guessing he had. 

But when I ride down the 300 block of Walnut Street I am very 
sad that the old synagogue is gone. I have many warm feelings that go 
back to that place and to the sweet love my grandfather showed me 
there. If I could draw, I would draw a picture of those old men up there 
on the bema — those happy faces. 

I don't know what my grandfather would think of me going to St. 
James Church on occasion. Of course I could blame it on Ma Sadie for 
sending me there to kindergarten. 

As for the old Block facto- 
ry, I ride by and wish it was still 
red brick. A new owner has 
bought it and painted it yellow. 
When I see the building, it's the 
odd things that stand out in my 
mind — like the day we caught 
a girl stealing shirts. The back 
seat of her car was full of new 
shirts. I said, "What are you 
doing stealing our shirts?!" And 
she said, "Don't you know? A 
lot of people who work here 
steal your shirts!" 

What would I do different at work? I regret one of the firings. 

Still, I am proud that we gave jobs to so many hard-working peo- 
ple. I'm proud every time someone walks up to me and says they used 
to work for Block. And I'm proud of the products. We made good 
shirts that were affordable. Millions and millions of them. Shirts are 
not lasting things, like buildings or monuments. But we filled a need 




Greenfield Street wing of Block Shirts 



£ 152 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 




and provided employ- 
ment in the process. 

Retirement has 
given me time to learn 
things I didn't have time 
for when I worked. 
Well, maybe I did have 
the time. But when I 
was away from the fac- 
tory, I looked for recre- 
ation as hard as I looked 
for profit at work. 

Now, though, I 
have time to read and 
learn things I wasn't 
even aware I didn't 
know. The kind of busi- 
ness I was in drank up 
time and didn't lend 
itself to other kinds of 
learning. If I had it to 
do all over again, I 
would read more. And I 
might have joined a 
civic club. My father 
didn't think there was a 
place in the shirt world 
for Rotary or Civitans 
or Kiwanis because our 
customer base wasn't in Wilmington. But I'm not sure he was right. 

For these past few years, I have had many happy times and lots of 
laughter. Those are two different things, but it's very good when they 



Block factory workers, above: Magdalene Johnson 
(left), supervisor of the pressers, and Doris Ashe in the 
pressing department, about 1984. Below, from left: 
Switchboard operator Holly Long, printing depart- 
ment supervisor Brad Murray, and pressing depart- 
ment supervisor Magdalene Johnson, about 1985. 




•$. 153 3: 



Tales of a Shirtmaker 




Caught in thought: Fred Block at Figure Eight Island, about 1992 

(photo by Susan Block) 

go together. I have seen a lot of coincidences that I guess just might be 
somebody upstairs looking after me. 

But my most serious thought these past few years is about purpose. 
I watch and see wasted talents and money thrown to the wind and it 
makes me sad and sometimes it makes me angry. Trifling is what I call 
it. I don't like trifling and I never have. But it hasn't been until recent- 
ly that I thought of it in a religious way, or that I saw what I consider 
to be a good work ethic as stewardship. 

I'm seventy-seven now. Age makes you less earthbound. 

I think God has some serious plan for each of us to produce and 
to work hard at something special, and if that is what we are supposed 
to do we will have some uncanny knack for it. But we will still have to 
work at it, every single day. Or, as my grandfather would say, six days 
a week. 

I just thank God that I was made to be a shirtmaker, and that is 
exactly what I did and what I wanted to do. Our company put food on 



£ 154 3: 



A Jewish Upbringing in North Carolina 

many tables, put clothing on countless backs, and gave jobs to hun- 
dreds of people who had been turned away by others. 
I've been very fortunate. 



Notes 



1. The name of William Block's mother is variously listed in sources as Rebecca 
and as Rachel. A newspaper article gives Rachel, while William's death certifi- 
cate, and another family document, say Rebecca. 

Precise records do not survive, but William is believed to be the youngest of 
the siblings. 

2. Undated obituary, Charlotte (N.C) Observer. 

3. Wilmington Morning Star, March 29 , 1925. 

4. Wilmington Morning Star, March 4, 1923. Block Manufacturing Co., Inc. 
records, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Wilmington. 

5. Undated article from Kinston newspaper. 

6. It may be of interest that William Block and Lena Wolk Block once sailed to 
Riga to see William's mother, who gave him the ring his father had given to 
her. 

7. Wall Street Journal, July 5, 1992; Wilmington Star-News, July 10, 1992. 



£ 155 3: 



This book was composed in the Adobe Garamond, Copperplate 
Gothic, and Ribbon typefaces in Quark XPress 4.1 for the 

Macintosh computer. 

Of making many books there is no end. 
ECCLESIASTES 12:12 



Winoca Press 






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TALES OF A 

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A Jewish Upbringi 
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FREDERICK L . B LOC K *mW ^ C£ of Block Industries, Inc., the 
apparel manufacturing firm his forebears established in Wilmington, North 
Carolina, in the 1920s. In this captivating memoir, he recalls not only his roles in 
the company — from traveling salesman just after World War II to executive lead- 
ership in a global industry decades later — but the 
experience of growing up Jewish in a genteel, and 
largely gentile, Southern city. Block served as 
director of the North Carolina National Bank, 
the Cape Fear Academy, and the Figure Fight 
Island Homeowners' Association. He retired from 
active involvement in the Block firm in 1985. 

Susan Taylor Block, a native of 

Wilmington, is a writer and historian in her 
hometown. Author and researcher often books 
on Wilmington-area history, in this volume she 
collaborates with her husband in telling his 
unique story. She was awarded the Clarendon 
Cup from the Lower Cape Fear Historical 
Society (for her history ofAirlie Gardens) in 
2003, as well as the organizations Society Cup in 
1998 and 2002. In 1999 she was recognized by 
the North Carolina Society of Historians (East) 
as Historian of the Tear. She holds theA.B. 
degree from the University of North Carolina. 

$19.95 








ress 



106 North 1 6th Street 
Wilmington NC 28401-3819 USA 
www.winocapress.com 



ISBN 0-9755910-1-0 


I 




5 1995 


9 78C 


975H591C 


I 



Bridgeport National 
Bindery, Inc. 

JULY 2005 




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